It’s the sort of thing you think will never happen to you, but identity theft occurs when skilled identity thieves gain access to your information without your knowledge, such as your social security number, and use it to commit fraud.
An identity thief can use your information to apply for credit, file taxes, or gain medical services under your name. This can damage your credit status – not to mention the time and money it will cost to restore your good name. Common identity thefts include child identity theft, tax identity theft, medical identity theft, senior identity theft and social identity theft.
There are a number of ways these thieves can gain access to your personal information. These include stealing records from businesses or other institutions, obtaining credit reports and abusing access or posing as an employer, stealing credit and debit card information, stealing wallets and purses containing personal information or completing ‘change of address’ forms to divert your mail to another location.
One way in which thieves can steal your identity is through gaining your social security number. You can prevent this from happening by adhering to the following: don’t carry your social security number card with you, but instead keep it in a safe place, don’t put your social security number on checks or other identifying documents, don’t use your social security number as an identification number on any other documents, and don’t use your social security number as your PIN, or the last four digits, as a PIN.
Make sure, when using an ATM, that you shield the keypad when typing in your PIN. Don’t leave mail in your mailbox for weeks at a time; if you’re on vacation have a family member or friend collect it for you. If you receive a lot of documents that contain personal information, it may be worth purchasing a small shredding machine. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information such as your name, date of birth, bank account number, etc. by phone, online, or email.
If you think you are a victim of identity theft, you should notify your bank immediately, close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently, place a fraud alert on your credit reports – and review your credit reports, report the identity theft to the police and finally, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.