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Identity theft takes over your entire life, taking you away from home and work responsibilities as you work to clean up the havoc surrounding your bank accounts, the misuse of your Social Security number and your own identity. Thieves steal the identities of others so they can obtain credit, buy health insurance and get jobs. Regardless of why they steal the identities of others, this crime is not “victimless” – if your identity, credit history or Social Security number are stolen, you can be mistaken for someone you are not.
When someone takes over your identity to open credit and bank accounts in your name, this is identity theft. According to Bankrate.com, this crime is committed so subsequent crimes can be carried out.
Because so may people store bits and pieces of their identity online – and on their cell phones – it becomes much easier for a identity thief to find those pieces of information so they can literally create an entire new identity, leaving their own true identities behind. Once they have the information they need, they are able to apply for and obtain new credit cards and loans in your name. If they fail to make required payments, you are the one who suffers, because the derogatory information is entered on your credit history.
How it Happens
It is all too easy for someone to obtain your private information. You toss an invitation for a new credit card into the trash can. You stay logged into your online bank account after you’ve finished updating your check register. You toss detailed medical information into the trash. You leave ATM receipts hanging from the ATM machine after you leave the machine with your card and cash. You leave your purse open, where someone can find and take your credit cards, driver license and ATM card.
This happens to too many people, who leave their information and cards unsecured. They have just made it too easy for others to steal that information or those cards.
Order Your Credit Report Annually
Go to annualcreditreport.com and request one free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies. If you do not have Internet access, call 1-877-322-8008. Your reports will be free from the three agencies if you order through this website or call the toll-free number.
You have probably seen television advertisements for free credit reports. When you contact these companies, you are required to provide your credit card information. That free credit report soon becomes a monthly financial obligation. These are imposter sites.
Review your credit reports in detail once you receive them. Highlight any information that you know is wrong. You will need to file a dispute letter with the company that reported the information. This could be evidence of identity theft, especially if you do not remember applying for credit with that company.
Protect Yourself Offline
Buy a shredder. These are available at big-box discount stores and office supply stores. The amount you pay for these machines will repay themselves quickly as you shred credit card invitations, outdated insurance or medical information and old bills. Every time you get an invitation you don’t want, shred it and cut up the faux credit card that is often attached to the invitation. Shred old bills on a regular basis.
Lock your Social Security card up in a locking file cabinet at home. Take it out only when you need to verify your identity for a job application.
Store your wallet or purse safely away, especially when you are expecting guests. Increase your level of protection further by storing your debit and credit cards in that locking file cabinet.
Do not use your user name or password at unprotected free wi-fi hotspots. Access your online bank account at home only. Once you are done with your browsing session, log out completely. Change your password periodically, choosing a password that is difficult. Do not use easily identifiable passwords, such as pet names, dates of birth or other information that could be linked to you. Each password should be unique.