The FTC estimates that nearly 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. Victims of identity theft can miss out on numerous opportunities in their lives due to having their identity stolen. Many victims can not find jobs or apply for credit cards and loans since their credit report is mostly negative after an identity theft. Identity theft is basically a term used to describe the illegal use of another person’s identity. This can vary from one extreme to another but ultimately identity theft is the practice of using an identity other than your own, without permission, to commit fraud or crimes. Identity theft can take many forms, including: Financial ID Theft, Identity Cloning, and Business/Commercial ID Theft.
Financial ID Theft is when someone uses another person’s identity to purchase goods and/or services. The identity thief can use the victim’s identity to obtain credit cards and other types of loans, or set up telephone and electricity services for their home. The next form of ID theft is Criminal Identity Theft, which is when a person is arrested and uses a stolen identity to pose as someone else so that they are “innocent.” This allows the person to evade capture and presume a new identity, at least for the time being. Another form of ID theft, termed Identity Cloning is done by stealing someone’s identity and using it as your own on a regular, day-to-day basis. This can be done with Government Documents Fraud which will allow the thief to get a Social Security Card or even a Driver’s License with the victim’s information but the thief’s photograph, and many times coincides with Criminal ID Theft. A person may also use a business’ name to obtain credit on their behalf, which is the case with Business/Commercial Identity Theft. These types of identity stealing are just some of the major forms a theft can take. Many other crimes including illegal immigration, terrorism, espionage, and blackmail stem from identity theft.
To obtain the information needed, an identity thief can employ the use of various techniques. An identity thief may research an individual via the internet, government records, or gain information by stealing a person’s identification card, or credit/debit cards. With the increasing popularity of social networking sites and job search engines, it is easy for an identity thief to find all the information they need from a personal MySpace page or from a jobseekers resume. Another common practice, called dumpster diving, involves the thief stealing mail or other pieces of information about a person by sifting through their trash, or taking information from discarded equipment that has not been properly deleted, such as a personal computer. An identity thief may also “shoulder surf,” which involves listening or peeking in on public transactions, such as ATM withdrawals, to gain personal information.
As opposed to the previous methods, cyber criminals evolve just as fast as modern technology allows them to. The increased use of technology has allowed an identity thief to steal your information without ever seeing your face. A common practice, called phishing, allows the cyber criminal to impersonate a trusted source or business via electronic communications. Fake e-mails are sent out from legitimate looking sources attempting to lure you into giving up personal information. Hackers and crackers can also gain access to computer databases by using viruses and other such programs to steal information off the servers. While this is a very technical, hands-on approach, a skilled cyber criminal can infiltrate a system and steal personal information. Lastly, a thief can use skimming devices, which record credit and debit card information during transactions, to access your credit and bank accounts.
The risk of an identity theft is always lingering but minimizing that threat is your responsibility. Many times the thief is actually someone the victim knows very well. Be as safe as possible and avoid any risks that could endanger your identity. You can minimize this threat and prevent identity theft by always protecting your wallet or purse at all times, and especially do not leave it unattended. Do not carry an excessive amount of cards, only identification and any credit or debit cards you will be using. It is also important to always protect your Social Security number and avoid carrying your card with you. Never allow a company to use your Social Security number as a unique identifier. Instead they should be able to set up a special account number for you to reference. Also, never blurt out your Social Security number. Instead, write it down and then take it back when the representative is done with it. Being very wary of your trash, mail, and e-mail is also something to focus on. Shred any papers with personal information and opt-out of receiving credit card offers and telemarketing calls. Never leave mail with personal information in an unsecured location. You should always verify who you are speaking with. If the call seems suspicious hang up and call back one of the numbers you find on a bill or statement. If it really is your credit card or utility company needing to verify information, they will be glad to let you call back. The same goes for e-mails. If an e-mail seems strange, then manually type the URL of the company instead of clicking a link.
Identity theft is a serious issue that most people feel will not affect them. Many people allow themselves to fall under the misconception that, “it will never happen to me.” A victim of identity theft will take, on average, three months to discover that their identity has been stolen. With a three month head start the identity thief can clean out bank accounts, open fraudulent lines of credit, or even be arrested with your identity. Preventing identity theft falls squarely on the individual’s shoulders. While many companies offer identity theft resources, ultimately, the individual must take a conscious step to avoid being a victim. A person must take the initiative and preemptively integrate this information into their everyday lives. The only person that can truly help you prevent and avoid identity theft is yourself.