Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the US just got bigger! The US Justice Department confirmed the theft of over 40 million debit and credit card numbers from the following retailers:
- TJ Maxx
- Boston Market
- Barnes and Noble
- Sports Authority
- Discount Shoe Warehouse
- and others.
This type of crime is going to continue to grow aggressively as consumers thanks it’s never going to happen to them.
You may be wondering if it’s ok to check your bank accounts online… but the question may be is the computer you’re using protected!
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The prevailing thought of identity theft being rare and not a major concern to us personally, even though we’re more aware than ever of its existence is simply not true.
No matter what you feel the chances are of having your identity stolen, you must realize that this can happen to anyone, and taking the small steps now to protect yourself could save you a great deal of difficulty in the future.
Identity theft most commonly occurs over the internet nowadays. Every website you visit, every time you download a program or file, all of these events leave you open and vulnerable to having your computer infected with software that can then steal your personal information, your passwords and anything else of value that may be stored on your computer. With the amount of internet banking and online credit card purchases that are made now, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of havoc this can cause in people’s lives.
Once you’ve become a victim of identity theft, it can take you a lifetime to fully remove the constant threat of that stolen identity coming back to haunt you. You could have accounts or lines of credit taken out in your name, crimes committed in your name, and can request further documentation from the government at any time, meaning all it takes is one element of your identity being stolen and a thief can fully take control over all aspects of it.
The most important first step to take when your identity has been stolen or you suspect it has, is to contact the authorities immediately. You’ll also need to contact government agencies and licensing bureaus as well, and finally every institution in which you deal with financially, from banks and credit cards companies to your property owner.
You must make an immediate freeze to every account you hold to prevent any action being taken in your name. You must also contest immediately any charges brought against any of your accounts that are not yours.
Once all these steps are complete, you can undergo the slow process of trying to fully retrieve your identity and finding out the answers as to how this happened.
For years from that point on you’ll need to be constantly alert and monitoring all the activity on your accounts to ensure the thief has not returned to try again. Closing all your old accounts and opening new ones is a good step, but this does not guarantee that you’ve defeated your foe.
Even with increased security and law enforcement presence on the internet, very few of these identity thefts ever result in anyone being apprehended.
More than 500,000 people have their identity stolen each year, and these numbers have been steadily increasing each year. Having a secure computer is one of the most important elements of protecting your identity, as is being aware of the sites you deal with and amount of security they have as well.
You should never input any financial or other important information into any website that isn’t on a secure server. Most sites that are will have a security sign on their site declaring this, so you should quickly be able to tell which sites are well protected and which aren’t.
Ultimately you may just wish to avoid the convenience of online shopping or banking altogether for the security of knowing your financial information is much more secure.
“What is identity theft?”? you might ask. It is defined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as “fraud committed or attempted using the identifying information of another without lawful authority.”? In other words someone steals your personal information like your social security number and tries to pass themselves off as you. Thieves can obtain loans or credit cards, assume your persona and/or commit crimes as if they were you. You may think identity theft only happens on rare occasions or only in movies, but this criminal activity is becoming more and more prominent, prompting intelligent individuals to protect themselves.
So, how do you protect yourself from this type of crime? The primary action is prevention. You shouldn’t live in fear but you should use well thought out precautions.
Do not readily give out your social security number. One instance that comes to mind is when you register at the emergency room. They give you a short form asking your name, social, and your symptoms. There is no reason to write your social, they’re going to ask for your insurance and personal information later. Registrars oftentimes leave these lying around in plain sight of others.
Your children’s information is also at risk. If your doctor’s office gives you paperwork asking for their social, don’t give it to them. All they need is your insurance numbers to file claims. Just because you are in a professional setting doesn’t mean the receptionist or cleaning crew aren’t criminals. I know this might sound like I’m going overboard, but if they don’t “need”? this information don’t give it to them.
Credit card numbers, pin number, passwords, and residence information should also be protected. Cover up the numbers on your cards when you are swiping them at the supermarket. Put your back to the people behind you when you’re entering your pin. Never share your pin number or passwords with anyone and be creative when choosing them. Don’t use obvious numbers like your birth date, family name, or address number. These are the first things thieves try. If your cards are stolen, thieves are likely to have your driver’s license with your address and birthday on it.
Think about how many websites ask for your name, address, credit card number three-digit code found on the back of your card, and the expiration date? Keep your credit cards locked up at home. Carry only the cards you will use when you go out. Separating them in one wallet and your driver’s license and cash in another is a great idea and keep one or the other in your pocket or jacket. Pick pockets might get one, but without the other, it is more difficult to use your cards. Always sign your credit cards on the back with “ask for photo ID”? to prompt cashiers for proof you are the cardholder. Most cashiers will then ask for a driver’s license, but not always. In that situation, it is perfectly appropriate to bring this to the attention of the cashier or manager; they may be ignorant to your purpose. Just consider this as your way of helping others who use this precaution.
Unsolicited mail for credit card offers, credit card statements, and doctor bills should be guarded. Use a mailbox that can be locked. You can also request paper statements be stopped and instead have them mailed to your e-mail. Why? This type of mail hold information like where you bank, account numbers, among other personal information. By asking these to be e-mailed, you will need to log-on to secure websites. User names and passwords are necessary for anyone to obtain this type of information.
When it comes to unsolicited credit card offers, loan offers, offers to refinance or take equity out on your mortgage, sign up with the FTC’s national “Do Not Mail Registry”?. This will massively reduce bulk mailings. Purchasing a shredder and shredding this type of mail is another means of protection. If it has your name on it and you don’t need it, shred it.
What about your tax returns, financial files, unused checks, and credit cards not being used? Keep them locked up in a fire-proof, combination safe that is bolted into the ground somewhere obscure in your home. Is this really necessary? My answer is an emphatic “Yes!”? Think back to your pickpocket, did he get your wallet with your driver’s license and address? If so, who is to say they are not a burglar as well. They’ve checked you out and now they want more. It’s just plain stupid to leaves these items laying around your home waiting to be used for their benefit.
Identity theft is something real we have to deal with today and you are not an exception. Thieves are lurking everywhere waiting for the opportunity to become you and unfortunately, you will be left with the burden of their actions.