How often have you used the no-frills ATM machine in the local bodega to withdraw money? Or received a new credit card in the mail, peeled it from the letter and discarded the paper without shredding? Or received a magazine, skimmed through it, tore your name off of the front and tossed the rest? All of these are opportunities for an Identity Thief to become you!
Identity theft is a crime in which an imposter uses the name, social security number, and/or other identifying information of a victim to establish credit, use existing credit, or otherwise acquire benefits at the expense of their victims. Nearly 10 million people are the victims of identity theft each and every year and often times do not realize it until its too late. There are many ways that the impostor acquires their victim’s information. Some of the more popular ways are:
• Skimming: It’s the act of using a small device (skimmer) to scan and capture someone’s credit card information off of their magnetic strip. Skimming can occur easily at a restaurant when the server takes your card away to pay for your meal. If the server is a thief, before returning you card, they can scan it with a small hand held skimmer to capture your information. On occasion, skimmers have been attached by thieves to an ATM machine to capture your information and then removed after your transaction.
• Phishing: It’s when your identity is stolen through the use of a phony website that was created to appear as a legitimate website to capture the victims identifying information. Always look for key identifiers that it is a legitimate site such as spelling, font sizes, and the lock symbol at the bottom of the page.
Now that we have gone over a few ways thieves can steal your identity, what can be done to prevent it??
• Protect your important documents such as social security cards, passports, birth certificates etc in a safe location. Typically, I would recommend keeping them in a safety lock box somewhere secure in your home. However, most recently, I was the victim of a home invasion, and the thief stole my lock box! So now, I keep my important documents in a safe deposit box at my local bank where I know it will be safe.
• Use a shredder, preferably a cross shredder that will shred your documents into tiny pieces as opposed to long strips that can be put back together. Also, make sure that it can also shred credit cards and/or CDs/DVDs.
• Safeguard your mailbox and be sure to remove all mail everyday. Opt for a locked mailbox or a mailbox at your local post office if possible.
• Use caution when shopping online. Only use sites you know are secure with the lock symbol in the bottom corner of the page. Also,try to use the same card, preferably a credit card, for all online purchases so that you can better keep track of your purchases.
• Be sure to check your credit every year through www.annualcreditreport.com
or call 1-877-322-8228 and pull it from all three credit reporting agencies: Equifax,
Experian and TransUnion.
I usually make that my birthday gift to myself each year! And if you find that
there is an identity theft issue, IMMEDIATELY notify each agency and ask them to put a fraud alert and/or freeze on your credit. Close all affected accounts, file a police report and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission,
www.ftc.gov/i dentitytheft or 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
Once your identity is stolen it can take years to repair the damage depending on how soon you catch it and depending on how much damage is done. Therefore it’s very important that we do everything in our power and within our resources to safeguard it TODAY!! | BY: ERIKA YOUNG