How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft
15 Million. The approximate number of US identity fraud victims each year.
$50 Billion. The total financial losses as a result of identity fraud each year.
With approximately 100 million additional Americans who have their personal identifying information at risk due to stolen or lost government and corporate databases, identity fraud is one of the most common crimes in the United States.
No one expects to become a victim of identity fraud, but the fact of the matter is, it can happen to anyone. Today identity thieves can strike without having to leave their home. The US Department of Justice says to remember the word SCAM to protect yourself and avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud.
S - Be stingy about giving out your personal information to others unless you have a reason to trust them, regardless of where you are.
Start by adopting a "need to know" approach to your personal data. Your credit card company may need to know your mother's maiden name, so that it can verify your identity when you call to inquire about your account. A person who calls you and says he's from your bank, however, doesn't need to know that information since it's already on file with your bank; the only purpose of such a call is to acquire that information for that person's personal benefit. Also, the more information that you have printed on your personal bank checks -- such as your Social Security number or home telephone number -- the more personal data you are routinely handing out to people who may not need that information.
C - Check your financial information regularly, and look for what should be there and what shouldn't.
If someone has gotten your financial data and made unauthorized debits or charges against your financial accounts, checking your monthly statements carefully may be the quickest way for you to find out. Too many of us give those statements, or the enclosed checks or credit transactions, only a quick glance, and don't review them closely to make sure there are no unauthorized withdrawals or charges. If someone has managed to get access to your mail or other personal data, and opened any credit cards in your name or taken any funds from your bank account, contact your financial institution or credit card company immediately to report those transactions and to request further action.
A - Ask periodically for a copy of your credit report.
You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus. Only do this through the official site, www.annualcreditreport.com . Don't fall for websites with similar names. Your credit report should list all bank and financial accounts under your name, and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used any accounts in your name.
M - Maintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts.
Even though financial institutions are required to maintain copies of your checks, debit transactions, and similar transactions for five years, you should retain your monthly statements and checks for at least one year, if not more.
If you have any questions or concerns about identity theft or fraud, contact your local Better Business Bureau. As always, When in Doubt, Check it Out!