by Jaynee Sasso
In the information age, ensuring the protection of your personal information can be quite a challenge. You are constantly being asked to enter identification, password, and answers to security questions to verify your identity. Yet the opportunity for a thief to obtain your personal data is still a significant possibility if you or the businesses who store your information do not take the appropriate precautions. In today’s economic climate it’s more important than ever to protect your good name and ultimately your financial future.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the estimated total losses from ID theft in 2006 was $15.6 billion. Ten percent of victims reported an out-of-pocket expense of about $1,200 to resolve theft-related issues. Learning to be more cautious about when and to whom you give your information can decrease your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.
The information most likely sought by an identity thief includes your social security number, bank account or credit card number, and other financial identifying data. Some of the scars left behind by identity thieves are the unexpected withdrawal of funds from your account, new loans or credit card accounts opened or used without your knowledge, and the task of correcting incorrect information about your financial or personal status.
There are a number of ways identity thieves can gather your personal information, such as “shoulder surfing”, “dumpster diving,” and “phishing.” To protect yourself from “shoulder surfing,” act cautiously when discussing your personal information in public places. Guard yourself from “dumpster diving” thieves by properly shredding personal records or documents before disposing.
Protect yourself from “phishing” thieves by refusing to reply to email or pop up messages that ask for either personal or financial information.
Another key factor in keeping identity thieves at bay is to monitor your credit reports, bank statements, and credit card statements regularly for unusual activity. About 37 percent of all victims discovered misuse of their personal information by monitoring activity on their accounts.
The reality is that even if you take great care in protecting your personal data you can not be sure that there will not be a breach of security by the people or companies you transact business with daily. Also, keep in mind that 16 percent of victims personally knew the thief. Adopting a “need to know” attitude when making a decision to share personal information will help to limit your exposure to potential identity thieves.
If you become a victim or believe that the security of your personal information has been compromised, take the following steps:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting each of the credit bureaus to request it. With an alert in place, if anyone tries to open a new credit account, loan, etc. the lender will contact you to verify the authenticity of the request.
- Close accounts that you think have been tampered with.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC detects patterns of wrongdoing, which may lead to investigations or prosecutions.
- File a report with the local police or in the community where the identity theft took place. You may also need to contact other agencies for other types of identity theft such as the Postal Inspection Service, Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service.
Jaynee Sasso is President of Faithful Assistants Inc. and creator of coaching program “The Commonsense Way to Wealth.” www.commonsensewaytowealth.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.