What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when an individual, one whom you could already know, takes your personal information, like you credit card number, without your consent and uses it for their own personal gain, which is clearly unethical. Identity Theft is not just limited to your name or your address, like most people would assume. This type of theft can be anything that is used to identify you, or any of your personal information. An example is a hacker, hacking into your computer to obtain personal information. Identity Theft is generally considered to be avery serious crime and of the highest offense, a felony. In California anyone who even retains so much as the smallest amount of personal information could be punished by imprisonment, recieve a fine or both, up to one year. However, some states such as Illinois consider it to be an offense, but it is only considered to be a misdemeanor. In short, only give out information to people you know can uphold the security of your identity.
How can someone obtain, or steal, my personal identity?
Some of the most common types of identities stolen are as follows:
1.) Pretexting- Meaning that the individuals who have illegal obtained the information used false information from institutions such as banks and phone companies, in addition to other sources. One of the most common ways that information is obtained through pretexting consists of an individual who may call you, or send you a letter claiming he's from an institution of yours, or a research firm and ask for even the most common pieces of information such as your full name, birth date and other facts known as social engineering. In turn, the thief could take the information that you have given him, and ask your financial institution for information about your bank account, including numbers and history, using it to his advantage and take what is not his or hers. People fail to adequately verify. Many institutions have gone as far as biometrics in order to protect their assets.
2.) Phishing- This particular method of stealing information seems to be the most common on the internet, similar to spoofing. Phishing is when spam is sent to your email account, claiming to be from your bank or even the government, asking you to refill out specific forms. An example that was and still is very common, concerning phising, is an email that is sent out around tax time claiming that your tax refund is ready and needs to be sent to your bank account ASAP. The email looks incredibly alike, to a genuine document and many a times the user will fill out the form, sending all their bank account information to the the thief.
3.) Dumpster Diving- Be sure to destroy all your trash that has financial information on it. Many a times we through out old bills and paychecks. All of these can have information on it, and we might not think anything of it, but someone could easily dig through your trash complie the info and find out who you bank with.
What happens with the information that is stolen?
Once your information has been compromised, there are a number of different ways that is can be used and some are as follows:
1)Financial fraud- once the thief has received the information that is needed, such as birth date, social security number, and account number, the individual could open a bank account in your name and write bad checks. In addition, they could apply for a loan in your name, collecting the loan money in your name and leaving you with monthly payments. In addition, a thief could apply for a credit card in your name, through the mail or through the internet and spend all the money that has surpassed the limit. In this case your name is not just at risk, so is your credit score. The more credit cards that are opened and maxed out, the more your credit score will continue to drop.
2.) Government Fraud- This particular method of identity theft is not as common as the other types due to strict regulations that are upheld by the government. However, someone can still fill out the correct amount of paper work and apply for a driver's license, or a government issued id in your name, and can sometimes even have their picture taken in place of yours. Taxes can also be filed as a return in your name.
3.) Misc fraud- Houses can be rent in the individuals names, random store accounts can be opened in your name, school loans can be taken out, and just a number of other offenses can be committed in your name. Cars, motor homes and even boats can be purchased with your information.
How do I know if I am a victim of identity theft?
The most common way to find out if you are a victim of identity theft is to check you accounts, or by checking your credit score. Many people are regularly mailed bank statements and credit card statements. However, many of us tend to glance at our statements and then dispose of the account of transactions. If you pay attention, you could see unauthorized purchases. In addition, if there is a significant change to your credit score, you could have open accounts that are going unpaid. You can also fill a complaint with the Federal Trade Commision, they can help you at anytime with Identity theft.
What precautions can I take in order to protect my identity?
No one solution can protect you 100%, when it comes to theft, it can happen to anyone. However, there are several steps that you can take in order to protect yourself. Here are some of the steps that you can take:
-Never give out your Social Security number to anyone you don't know
-Always verify a source before handing out information, or Authenticate,
-Store your information in secure locations
-Know where all you credit cards are and dispose of bills properly
What do I do if I become a victim?
If you do become a victim there are several ways that you can regain your good name. Here are the four steps to getting back on track:
1.) Review your credit report and place an alert with your bank and any other financial institutions.
2.) Close all the accounts that have been opened fradulenty
3.)Fill a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
4.) File a police report in your local neighborhood