Identity theft is on the rise. Over the past three years, in fact, it has risen to affect more than eleven million people. The numbers are staggering. You might think it’s almost inevitable that you become a victim too. However knowing how thieves obtain your information is a great first step in protecting yourself.
What Common Causes Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information. Any personal information from your name and driver’s license number, social security number or credit card numbers can cause serious problems for you and your credit report.
Thieves can apply for a job with your name. They can open credit card accounts, apply for loans. And they can use your current credit cards to fund their lifestyle.
So how do they get your information? That’s the big question.
The most common way people get a hold of your personal information is by stealing your wallet or purse. Once they have your driver’s license and credit cards, they practically have free reign to inflict all sorts of damage.
They’re also not afraid to steal your mail or change your address so your mail is sent to them. It could take months before you know your identity has been stolen and by that time a lot of damage can be done.
However, thieves can be sneaky too. If your information is left unguarded, all it takes is a dishonest pair of eyes to spot your credit card number or worse, your social security number on a piece of paper or even on your computer screen, and your identity can be stolen.
Thieves aren’t above sifting through your garbage either. They seek personal documents with your information on them to use to open new accounts or take advantage of your existing credit.
And technology has helped thieves learn new tactics.
Phishing for example, is a tactic where thieves will create a webpage designed to look like the website of a financial institution. They’ll send out email messages with a request that you take action. The email will have a link in it to their webpage.
You click on the link thinking it’s your bank sending you the message. You enter your account number and personal information on the web page and they’ve got you. Of course some phishing scams aren’t so advanced, some come straight out and ask you to call or email them with your account information. The sad thing is that this tactic works, quite well. Particularly among those who are not internet savvy and don’t realize scammers are out there.
Finally, you have the thieves with the scanning devices. These devices can be hand held, strapped around an ankle or inserted into an ATM. Your card is swiped and they have your account information stored in their device. This is called skimming and it’s becoming quite a problem. For example, you can go out to dinner with friends, hand your credit card to the waitperson. If they are an identity thief, they run your card through their skimmer before they return it to you. They now have access to your account and your credit.
How Can I Protect Myself?
There are many ways thieves can steal your identity however the techniques discussed are the most common. This makes protecting yourself a bit easier. Always shred your documents and keep tabs on who is in your home and what information they can see. If your wallet is stolen, make sure to report it immediately and contact all of your creditors and accounts to alert them of the theft.
Always keep your credit card in your sight and never give out personal information to anyone over the phone or via email unless you’re 100% sure it’s someone you can trust.
And finally, stay on top of your accounts by checking your monthly statements and getting your annual free credit reports. You may also want to look into credit monitoring which alerts you when any information is changed on your credit report. It won’t prevent you from having your identity stolen but it will ensure the thief is stopped quickly.
Identity theft is on the rise but you don’t have to be a victim. Knowledge is power. Protect yourself and your information and take measures to stay informed.