By: Investor Solutions, Inc.
Picture this&you go to work one morning and find that $50,000 is missing from your bank account, two credit card companies (that you never heard of before) are calling you because you’ve exceeded the $20,000 limits, and someone has used your social security number to apply for numerous car loans. Talk about having a bad day& and welcome to the world of Identity Theft! According to a recent survey conducted by the Better Business Bureau, approximately 9.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft from January 2004 thru January 2005. On average, consumer out-of-pocket expenses totaled over $1.5 billion each year since 2001 to correct the damage done by identity thieves. Based on data collected by the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has now become the number one consumer complaint in the entire country. Are you taking the essential precautions to limit your exposure?
Many people just do not realize just how easy it is for criminals to obtain our personal information without even having to break into your home or stealing it from an organization for which you conduct business. The number of “dumpster divers” is steadily on the rise- these individuals go through your trash searching for credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other personal information. If you don’t currently own a shredder, waiting another six months could easily cost you lots of time, aggravation, and money. Here are some of the steps that you can take to better protect yourself from becoming a victim.
- Review credit card and bank statements immediately upon receipt for unauthorized charges
- Use anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date.
- Be cautious about opening any email files that you receive from unknown senders
- Do not reply or click on email links that ask for personal or financial information
- Limit your email usage for personal and financial information, if you must send personal information over the internet use secure websites and password protect your financial documents
- URLs that begin “http” are not secure, only those beginning “https” are secure sites
- Tear up or shred “pre-approved” credit card applications that you receive in the mail prior to placing them in the trash bin
- Ask periodically for a copy of your credit report and review it accordingly
In a recent case in the Central District of California, a man was indicted and pled guilty to federal charges and was sentenced to 27 months in prison for obtaining private bank account information about an insurance company’s policyholders and using that information to deposit $764,000 in counterfeit checks into a bank account he established. And don’t forget about the internet, scammers are currently using a technique known as “phishing” to deceive consumers.
The Phishing Scam
Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses pop-up messages or spam to trick you into disclosing your SSN, account numbers, credit card information, and other personal information. These messages usually direct you to a phony website that looks just like one of the organizations that you deal with, then they ask you to “update” or “validate” your account information. These phony websites employ the same logos used by your banks, credit cards, and other organizations in an attempt to swindle you into revealing your personal information so the operators can have a field day running up bills and committing crimes under your name. They will usually threaten you with some type of bad consequence should you not respond. Don’t fall for this! If the company really has an issue with you or your account they will inform you in writing or via a phone call. In any case, these companies should already have your personal information and not be asking you for it again.
Identity theft scams are running wild, so check periodically with the Federal Trade Commission, Identity Theft Resource Center (Nonprofit organization), and U.S. Dept. of Justice websites if something unusual happens to you.
The Identity Theft Resource Center advises to watch out for these Scams:
- Free Credit Report Emails
- “You have Won a Free Gift” phone calls or emails
- Email chain letters
- Resume services or job advertisements that ask for SSN’s or date of birth
- Telephone scams where phony charities ask for your credit card information
- “You have Won” lottery scams
- Sign-in rosters that ask for SSN’s or other personal information
- E-Bay and PayPal scams that ask for credit information
If you get a notice that your personal information may have been invaded, taking certain steps quickly can help minimize the damage done from theft of your identity.
If you think that your Identity was Stolen
- Contact the fraud departments of the three principal credit reporting bureaus- Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union
- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently
- File a police report and obtain a copy as proof of the crime
- File your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working diligently for consumers to prevent fraud, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace. However, the growth rates and costs associated with identity theft have reached astonishing figures and simply make it a difficult crime for regulators to keep on top of. Most victims of identity theft do not report the crime to criminal authorities- only about 25 percent of victims who participated in a survey said that they had reported the crime to local police. Identity theft is no joke, it-s out there, it happens fast, and it could happen to you. Make sure you and the organizations for which you conduct business are taking all of the precautions necessary to protect your information.
 US Department of Justice website, Identity Theft and Identity Fraud
 Federal Trade Commission, Identity Theft Survey Report- September 2003 (4,057 interviews with US adults)