There’s perhaps no more insidious an attack than identity theft. Though many crimes are more physically traumatizing, identity theft attacks are done quietly. And often the damage is done before you’re even aware of the crime. Your life, as you know it, can be fundamentally changed.
From the Federal Trade Commission’s website: Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It’s a serious crime that can wreak havoc on your finances, credit history and reputation and can take time, money and patience to resolve.
Identity theft comes in many forms. Fraudulently filed tax returns, where the refund goes to the thief; unknown credit card accounts where bills and notices don’t come to your address; even a driver’s license in your name with another’s photo used to avoid insurance payments and also to provide identity for bank loans and government benefits.
In fact, many federal taxpayers' refunds were delayed because they had been stolen by identity thieves. One-fifth of those victims were from Florida, with South Florida being particularly lucrative for identity thieves in general.
Thieves will also use your identity to take out bank loans in your name or make huge purchases using your lines of credit. It can happen to anyone and you’re not immune.
Law-enforcement attention to the problem is increasing, but can do only so much. We are each individually responsible for our protecting our identities and taking preemptive steps can lessen the chance of falling victim.
For protection, be certain you have your wallet or purse at all times; make a point of never putting your wallet down while accessing it at a store. Holding it in your hand reminds you to retrieve your credit card before leaving and can be a simple, yet effective safeguard against what can often be an almost instantaneous crime.
A friend once lost his wallet in a movie theater and upon discovering it while getting in to his car, immediately called his credit card company to report the loss: the lost card was already in use.
Don’t carry your entire life in your purse or wallet. In the event that you lose it you still have items at home available for use while the situation is resolved. Another option is to carry a “walking wallet” containing perhaps one credit card and only the amount of cash you know is necessary for your outing.
Don’t provide personal information to anyone who contacts you; even when the call is to verify information — tell them they already have it. When you call only verify information you already gave them. Particularly important to safeguard is your Social Security number; there is seldom a reason to carry your Social Security card with you: leave it home in a safe place.
Even when accessing your credit report (as you should do three times each year when you get your one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus) be sure to opt-out of credit marketing offers. This stops the ceaseless flow of credit card offers that arrive in your mailbox daily, a flow that’s often fertile fodder for identity thieves.
If an offer does arrive, destroy it, and all other personal information prior to disposing of it; a paper shredder is invaluable. Recently an acquaintance shared a photo of her new state issued identity card on Facebook; that is a definite no no.
Remember the old adage ‘A stitch in time saves nine’? It’s perhaps never more true than in the case of maintaining your identity. Taking simple precautions now makes the opportunity smaller and the task more difficult for the identity thief.
After all, you don’t have to stop him from being an identity thief; you just have to make the task difficult enough to seem not worth the effort.