Steps every consumer can take to protect from identity theft

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Avoid identity theft and keep your good name
3 years ago
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There are many types of financial crimes that can impact your good name and your wallet, but few are as financially and personally devastating as that of identity theft. Unfortunately for internet users and others, instances of identity theft has been on the rise, but fortunately there are steps every consumer can take to protect themselves from the devastating effects of this serious crime.

What is Identity Theft?
The crime of identity theft can include a number of distinct fraudulent activities, such as:

- Opening one or more credit card accounts in the victim?ôs name
- Opening bank accounts using the name and credit rating of the victim
- Using the victim?ôs credit rating to obtain cell phone or other accounts
- Using that illegally obtained information to take out a loan

The consequences of these fraudulent actions can be quite serious to those who are victimized, and many victims of identity theft end up spending hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours just to recover their good name. Even after all this hard work, the results of identity theft can linger for years, rearing its ugly head every time the victim applies for a loan, credit card or other financial account.

While all this is bad news indeed, there is good news as well. That good news is that there are a number of simple and inexpensive steps ordinary consumers can take to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. These simple steps include:

- Always look your credit card statements over very carefully, and be on the lookout for any charges you did not authorize. If you notice an unauthorized charge, be sure to notify the issuing bank immediately.
- Know when your credit card statements are due. Keep track of your due dates, and call the issuer if your billing statement does not arrive on time. The absence of a credit card billing statement could mean that a scam artist has changed the billing address on your account without your knowledge.
- Protect your valuable personal information and never give out personal information such as Social Security numbers and account numbers over the phone, unless you initiated the call.
- Do not place credit card bills, bank correspondence or other such personal mail in the mailbox outside your home. Instead, mail those personal items at the post office, or from your office. Many identity thieves obtain valuable information through the robbing of mailboxes while they know the victims are at work.
- Always have the post office put a hold on your mail when you go on vacation. A neglected mailbox can be a tempting target for thieves.
- Think about getting an unlisted phone number. It is often possible for a determined criminal to obtain a great deal of information simply from a person?ôs address and telephone number.
- Buy a personal size shredder and shred all your confidential mail and other documents. A personal shredder is one of the most cost effective investments you can make, generally costing less than $50. This small investment can provide valuable peace of mind and excellent protection against the problem of identity theft.
- Be sure to check your credit report at least once a year. Your credit report is where any unauthorized activity will show up first. Carefully reviewing your credit report is one of the best ways to get advance warning about any attempts at identity theft.
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