Identity theft is one of the fastest growing white-collar crimes in the United States – two major factors fueling this fire are the rise in credit applications over the Internet and the tremendous proliferation of credit.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your specific identifying information, such as your Social Security number, to acquire goods or services in your name. A thief can use basic personal information, along with a false address, to get credit and other forms of identification, such as a driver's license. When any of these events occur, an identity has been stolen.
Typically, the majority of damage is done very quickly, sometimes within days, before the victim is even aware of a problem.
Identity Thieves Act Fast and will:
• Open a new charge card account, using your name, date of birth and Social Security number. When they use the charge card and don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
• Call your card issuer and, pretending to be you, change the mailing address on your account. Then, your imposter runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, you may not immediately realize there's a problem.
• Establish cellular phone service in your name.
• Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
• Safeguard Your Identity
You can safeguard your identity through these precautions:
• Don't carry your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your purse or wallet, except when needed.
• Don't print your Social Security or driver's license number on checks.
• Sign credit cards immediately. Keep photocopies of the front and back of credit cards in a safe location. This will help cancel the cards if stolen.
• Don't leave receipts from credit cards, back accounts or ATM transactions lying in the open.
• Shred mailings that include unused financial solicitations such as pre-approved credit cards.
• Make sure your mailbox is secure and remove mail as soon as it arrives.
• Don't provide Social Security or credit card numbers over the telephone or Internet unless you've initiated the contact.
Contact a major credit reporting company at least annually to review your file.
Should identity theft occur, notify credit card companies immediately; if the credit card is reported missing before charges are made, the cardholder owes nothing. If you suspect someone is using your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-269-0271.