Table of Contents
- Identity Theft: Introduction
- What is Identity Theft?
- Types of Information
- Stolen Identity
- Who is Targeted?
- How your Identity is Used?
- Is Identity Theft a Crime?
- How your Identity is Stolen
- Dumpster Diving
- Shoulder Surfing
- Identity Theft Scams
- Online Phishing Scam
- Phone Phishing Scam
- Soliciting Scam
- Free Prize Scam
- 50 Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Federal Trade Commission estimates as many as 9 million Americans fall victim to identity theft each year.
Identity theft is when someone steals or obtains access to your personal data and uses it for personal gain. For example, if someone were to get personal information about you, by theft or other, and use it for their own personal benefit without your knowledge or permission, this is considered identity theft.
Types of Information
Information targeted by identity thieves is often any private information that can be used to identify the victim or used to verify access to additional information, such as personal account information. Some common types of information include social security, license number, name, date of birth, address, and phone number. Thieves also look for information pertaining to your financial identity, such as bank account or credit card information.
Identity thieves are very cleaver at the way they steal your information. One of the most common ways is to take it without your permission; this is can be done by a number of different ways. A more clever way in which thieves obtain your personal data is through elaborate identity scams designed to deceit you into volunteering your information.
Who is Targeted
Anyone can become victim to identity theft. However, most targeted, is elderly and young adults. Elderly people are often targeted because they can be easily persuaded by various identity scams used by thieves.
Young adults are another targeted demographic because they often don’t take precautions to protect their personal information; this is because most young adults believe they are unlikely victims because they aren’t financially established yet. The problem with identity theft is that the personal information that thieves prey on can be used for more than just depositing your money or charging your credit cards.
How your Identity is Used?
Identity thieves can use your personal data a number of different ways, all of which should create headaches for you. One of the more common ways is to acquire goods and services under your identity, leaving you responsible for any charges or fees that may occur. This is often done by emptying out your bank accounts, charging your credit cards, or making purchases with your information, such as car rental or hotel reservations. In some extreme instances, stolen identities have been used to rent out homes, file fraudulent tax returns, get a job, bank loan or even receive medical care. Some thieves have even used stolen identification when being pulled over or arrested by police, resulting in warrants being falsely issued in the victim’s name.
Is Identity Theft a Crime?
In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deference Act (commonly referred to as the Identity Theft Act), making identity theft a federal crime punishable by law. Under the act, the penalties for an identity theft conviction can include up to 15 years in prison, up to $25,000 in fines, and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the crime.
Many people go about their daily life not realizing that they may be at risk for identity theft. Here is some of the ways your personal information can be stolen by identity thieves, as well as some preventative tips to avoid being a victim.
Dumpster Diving is pretty self explanatory and can easily be avoided. Most people wouldn’t expect anybody to go through their trash; identity thieves know this. That is why they often go through your trash searching for anything containing personal information about you. People sometimes throw away things that they don’t even realize can be used to steal their identity, such as pre-approved credit card offers, account summaries, bills, or any paper or notes that contain personal information like your name, birthdate, and social security number.
Pay Attention. Pay closer attention to what you throw in the trash.
Shred it. Invest in a paper shredder to properly dispose of any papers containing personal information
Go Paperless. Get your bills and account summaries sent online. This will result in less mail that needs to be shredded and thrown out.
Shoulder surfing is when identity thieves watch or listen to you, usually when you are in public and aren’t aware of their presence. Thieves will listen to your conversations you have in a public place, either in person or over the phone, waiting for you to reveal important information. Thieves also wait for you to reveal personal information by watching you from a distance, either far or near. They may watch you enter your information into an ATM machine or read information you write down, which ever the case, they do it without you even realizing it has occurred.
Watch you Back. Look over your shoulder anytime you enter personal information into a machine or write it down.
Hold your Tongue. When you are in public, don't talk about or discuss personal information. Avoid calling any financial providers when you are in a public area.
Protect your Information.When you do have to write down or enter personal information while in public, make sure to keep it as hidden as possible. Conceal the information with your body or use a free hand to keep it hidden when writing.
Skimming can be done in a variety of ways, but it is basically the act of copying your payment card information to be used without your knowledge. Skimming can be as simple as a merchant employee copying your card information when making a purchase.
Other identity thieves use skimming devices that copy the magnetic data on your card so that they can create a duplicate of your card. More elaborate ways these devices are used is by placing one on an ATM machine with a hidden camera that records you entering your PIN code; this is done to make duplicate cards that can be used for PIN base purchases.
Be Cautious. Try to only use ATM machines at banks or established businesses that you trust.
Pay Attention. Don't let your card out of your sight. If the merchant has to charge your card from a location away from you, you may consider paying with cash instead.
Check your Statements. Check your monthly statements each month for any purchases that were not made by you.
Although you may not be aware, there are many scams identity thieves use to get information about you. These scams are created to deceit victims into voluntarily providing personal identifying information about them. Here are some common scams used by identity thieves, as well as tips to prevent being a victim.
A Phishing scam occurs when an identity thief sends you an email, pretending to be from an established business, usually a bank or credit card provider. The email usually contains a clickable link with a message informing the recipient that there is a problem with their account. The link opens up a phony website, usually resembling the login page of the impersonated business, which is used to gather the recipients account information. Recipients are often convinced that the email and link is authentic because the design and logos are similar to those used by the business.
Be Cautious. Never open emails from senders you don't know or trust.
Return Address. Look at the sender’s email address; sometimes they forget to disguise this to resemble that of the business they are pretending to be.
Call First. If you receive an email stating there is a problem with one of your accounts, call the company first to verify the email is authentic before entering any information.
Another way to use a phishing scam is over the phone. Telephone phishing scams occur when an identity thief sends you an automated voice message, pretending to be from an established business, usually a bank or credit card provider. The voice message usually informs the recipient that there is a problem with their account and provides a callback number for them to handle the problem. The problem is that the callback number is phony; the caller is usually sent to an interactive voice system, which prompts them to enter personal and account information. Thieves often use fake caller-ID numbers in order to convince the recipient in believing the call is real.
Listen Carefully. When companies need to contact you about a problem with your account, they will normally refer to the last 4 numbers on the account as a reference.
Direct Contact. If you receive a call about a problem with your account, contact the company directly before using any callback numbers.
Investigate. Before calling the callback number, try to figure out if the problem is real. Look at up your account activity online to see if you can identify problem on your own.
A soliciting scam occurs when an identity thief gets your information by pretending to sell you a product or service that doesn’t exist. This can be done by door-to-door sales or soliciting over the phone; whichever it may be, you will be left without what you receiving what you ordered. Thieves often convince their victims into a sale by offering a great price for a limited time only. The thief uses the personal and payment information they gathered from your sale to their advantage.
Ask Questions. Ask the salesperson for their name, business license number, company phone number and any other information that you can use to verify the legitimacy of both the salesperson and the company.
Pay on Delivery. Don’t pay for any services until they have been received.
Don't Get Pressured. Don’t get pressured into giving your information until you feel confident and have verified everything. Remember that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
The free prize scam is similar to a soliciting scam in that you are promised to receive something that doesn’t exist. With the free prize scam, the identity thief contacts the victim, by phone or email, pretending that they won a prize. Once the victim believes they have won a free prize, they are informed that they need to pay for shipping and handling to receive the item. Once the thief collects your payment information, you are left with a stolen identity and a prize that doesn’t exist.
Don't Be Pressured. Thieves often pressure victims by telling them that they have a short time to retrieve their prize; this is just a lure.
Ask Questions. Ask for verification on the prize and company offering you the gift to make sure everything is legitimate. If it is a real business, you should contact the company to verify that the person contacting you is a part of the company.
C.O.D. If it truly is a free prize, there should be no problem with you paying for shipping and handling when the item is received.
Identity theft can create havoc on your life. Instead of leaving yourself vulnerable, learn what you can do to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. Use the tips below to prevent identity theft across various aspects of your life.
1. Pay Attention to Your Garbage.Thieves often dig through your garbage, looking for useful information. Keep your garbage container in a secure place and only bring it out when garbage pickup is scheduled.
2. Buy a Paper Shredder. Shred any pre-approved credit card applications, receipts and any other documents containing personal information.
3. Invest in a Locked Mailbox. Use a mailbox with a lock and take out received mail as soon as possible to prevent thieves from stealing your mail.
4. Safeguard Your Information. Store your personal files and other documents containing personal information in a safe or locked filing cabinet.
5. Store Your Cards. Store cards that you don’t use frequently in a safe or locked cabinet. This includes your social security card and credit cards you don’t use as often, such as those from specific department stores.
6. Sign Out. Make sure you sign out of all programs and applications when accessing information on a public computer or any other computer away from your home.
7. Clean Out Your Wallet or Purse. Go through your wallet or purse to make sure you aren’t storing any unnecessary information, such as bills or receipts. Also, never store your social security card in your wallet or purse.
8. Public Bathrooms. Women should never hang their purse on a stall door when using a public restroom. This creates an easy opportunity for thieves to quickly snatch the purse and run off.
9. Consolidate your Credit Cards. If you have several credit cards, designate one as your primary card. Keep only your primary credit card in your wallet or purse and leave the others safely stored at home until they are needed.
10. Keep Your Receipts. Never throw away a debit or credit card receipt while in public; keep the receipt and wait until you get home to properly dispose of it.
11. Never Leave your Info Alone. When in public, never leave documents containing personal information left unattended, even if you are somewhere you feel comfortable at, like school or work.
12. Memorize. The best way to keep your passwords safe is to memorize them. If you can’t memorize them, save them to a disk and store in a safe place instead of storing on your computer or writing them down.
13. Avoid the Common. Avoid using common passwords, such as your mother’s maiden name; sequential or consecutive numbers; the last four (4) of your social security number; or commonly used words from the dictionary.
14. Mix It Up. The best passwords are those that use a combination of numbers, uppercase letters and lowercase letters.
15. Keep It a Secret. Never give out your password to anyone, unless you are willing to take responsibility for however they may use it.
16. Avoid Duplicates. Instead of using one password for everything, come up with different passwords for different purposes. Each password should only serve one purpose at a time.
17. Change Often. One of the best ways to prevent thieves from stealing your password is to keep them guessing; you can do this by rotating your passwords around. The more often your password changes, the harder it is to figure out.
18. Use Encryptions. Use an encrypted password whenever possible. An encryption is the process of turning your password into an unreadable text when entered, which can only be read by the receiver. This can deter thieves who steal passwords by watching you enter it from a distance or tap into your system and copy it without you knowing.
19. Hotel or Motel Rooms. Never keep personal information in the room unless you’re present. Use the safe in the room or front desk to store any documents containing personal information whenever you leave the room.
20. Mail. Have your mail held at your local post office until you get back. Advise the post office to only release the held mail to you and check for proper identification.
21. Newspapers. Have your newspaper delivery put on hold while you are out of town. A pile of newspapers outside your home can be an indication that you are not home, which thieves may take as in invitation to break into your home and steal important personal information.
22. Watch Out for Pickpockets. Pickpockets often target busy tourist spots filled with crowds of people. Pickpockets prey on more than just money; they also use identifiable information kept in your wallet or purse to steal your identity. Be extra cautious of your surroundings while on vacation.
23. Buyers Beware. When buying things while on vacation, be cautious of the vendors you are buying from. If you are making a purchase from a small local business or street vendor, use cash instead of a card payment. To be safe, try sticking to more prominent and established businesses.
24. Sign Your Cards. Be sure to sign all your credit cards as soon as you receive them. Unsigned credit cards may not be protected against fraudulent charges if you card is lost or stolen.
25. Sign Your Receipts. Be sure to sign all your credit card receipts. By signing all your receipts, it will make it easier to figure out fraudulent charges from legitimate ones in the event that your card is lost or stolen.
26. Stick to a Routine. Keep record of the day within the month that you receive your bank and credit card statements. If your statement is late, notify the bank or credit card company immediately.
27. Switch to Electronic Statements. By having your bank and credit card statements emailed to you, you can prevent thieves from going through your mail and eliminate the hassle of having to properly dispose of the documents.
28. Never Lend Out Your Card. Never lend out your debit or credit card to anyone unless you are willing to take responsibility for anything they do with your card.
29. Never Give Out Your PIN. Never give out your PIN code to anyone unless they have your permission to use your card. For in-person purchases, your PIN code should be entered by you only.
30. Change of Information. If you plan on changing your address or phone number, notify your bank and/or credit card provider in advance. This prevents the chance of someone else gaining access to your information.
31. Use Online Bill Pay. Instead of paying your bills by mail, use online bill pay to prevent thieves from stealing your outgoing mail.
32. Add Passwords. Add passwords to all your financial accounts, including bank and credit cards accounts, to prevent thieves from gaining access to the account.
33. Be Aware of Expiration Dates. If you have a debit or credit card that is expiring soon, notify your card provider if you haven’t received a replacement card before the expiration date comes up.
34. Lost or Stolen Cards. If your debit or credit card is lost or stolen, immediately report it to your card provider to prevent anyone else from using it.
35. Add Your Photo to Cards. Many debit and credit card providers may allow you to add your photo to your card for added security against fraudulent purchases.
36. Pick Up Your Checkbooks. If you need to reorder checkbooks, pick them up from the bank instead of having them sent to your home.
37. Prevent Viruses. Install an anti-virus program to your computer to protect yourself from identity thieves trying to get information from you.
38. Install a Firewall. Install a firewall to your computer to prevent any identity thieves from gaining access to your computer.
39. Keep Everything Updated. Make sure to regularly update any anti-virus programs, firewall or operating systems installed on your computer.
40. Email Links. Be suspicious of emails from known companies that link to a site requiring you to enter account information or other personal information. If you do follow a link asking for your account information, make sure the domain name matches the name of the company.
41. Downloads. Never download a program or file from an unknown source; verify the source of all downloads. Unverified downloads may contain viruses designed to steal information from your computer.
42. Published Information. Don’t publish personal information on the internet that is not available to the public. More specifically, this includes public websites such as blogs, chatrooms, and social networking sites.
43. Use Prepaid Cards. Use prepaid cards for internet purchases. Since prepaid cards only use money that is added to the card, you can prevent thieves from creating debt for you by adding only the purchase amount each time you use the card.
44. Use Secure Websites. The following three factors indicate a website is secure. Look for these factors when sending personal information: the web address has an “s” after “http” (ex. https), the “s” indicates it’s a safe page; a padlock appears at the bottom of the page; an unbroken key appears at the bottom of a page.
45. Credit Reports. At least once a year, check your credit report for any problems, such as debt that wasn’t incurred by you, opened accounts that you did not authorize, or any other problems that could have resulted from a stolen identity.
46. Resume. Leave out the year and school you graduated from on your resume. Identity thieves posing as employers can your school and graduating year, along with your name, to gather additional information about you from alumni lists.
47. Personal Checks. Eliminate any unnecessary information from you personal checks, such as your social security number, phone number and address. This information can be used against you if your checkbook becomes lost or stolen.
48. Verify Sources. Before you give out any personal information, verify the legitimacy of the source first. This includes information sent through the phone, internet, mail or in-person.
49. Job Seeking. Never provide your social security number during a phone interview or on an online job application unless you have met the potential employer first. Identity thieves often post fake job listings in an attempt to gather useful personal information about you.
50. Sending Mail. Deposit outgoing mail at your local post office instead of using an unsecured mailbox or leaving it in your mailbox for the mail-person to pick up.