How To Identify And Protect Yourself From Identify Theft.
Identity theft is a crime. It occurs when someone uses your personal information (which can include your name, social insurance number, or any account number) without your knowledge or consent to commit unlawful activities such as fraud or theft.
The consequences of identity theft can be staggering. Victims spend extensive time closing bad accounts and fixing credit records. Clearing your name could be an expensive and lengthy process. You could be denied loans and jobs—and, though unlikely, you could even be mistakenly arrested as a result of crimes committed in your name.
How can an identity thief get your personal information?
Identity thieves can get your personal information by:
- Removing mail from your mailbox or fraudulently redirecting your mail.
- Stealing personal and private information from wallets, purses, mail, your home, vehicle, computer and websites you've visited or e-mails you've sent.
- Retrieving personal information in your garbage or recycling bin by "dumpster diving".
- Posing as a creditor, landlord or employer to get a copy of your credit report or access to your personal information from other confidential sources.
- Tampering with automated banking machines (ABMs) and point of sale terminals, enabling thieves to read your debit or credit card number and Personal Identification Number (PIN).
- Searching public sources, such as newspapers (obituaries), telephone books, and records open to the public (professional certifications).
- Buying the information from a dishonest employee working where personal and/or financial information is stored.
How do you know if your identity has been stolen?
Some of the signs that your identity might have been stolen:
- Bills and statements don't arrive when they are supposed to—they may have been stolen from the mailbox or someone has changed the mailing address.
- You receive calls from collection agencies or creditors for an account you don't have or that is up to date. Someone may have opened a new account in your name, or added charges to an account without your knowledge or permission.
- Financial account statements show withdrawals or transfers you didn't make.
- A creditor calls to say you've been approved or denied credit that you haven't applied for. Or, you get credit card statements for accounts you don't have.
- You apply for credit and are turned down, for reasons that do not match your understanding of your financial position.
How can you protect yourself from identity theft?
Think about taking care of your identity on a regular basis just like you take care of your health. You need to make it harder for thieves to obtain or use your personal information. Here are a few suggestions:
- Sign all credit cards when you receive them and never lend them to anyone. Cancel and destroy credit cards you do not use and password protect your back account, credit card and other online accounts. Never keep a written record of your PIN numbers in your purse or wallet.
- Carry only the identification information and credit cards that you actually need. Do not carry your social insurance card; leave it in a secure place. This applies also to your passport unless you need it for traveling out of country.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles and follow up with your creditors and utility companies if your bills do not arrive on time.
- Carefully check each of your monthly credit card statements. Immediately report lost or stolen credit cards and any discrepancies in your monthly statements to the issuing credit card company.
- Shred or destroy paperwork you no longer need, such as bank machine receipts, receipts from electronic and credit card purchases, utility bills, and any document that contains personal and/or financial information.
- Secure personal information in your home or office so that it is not readily accessible to others, who may have access to the premises.
- Do not give personal information out over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you are the one who initiated the contact and know the person or organization with whom you are dealing.
- Order a copy of your credit report from the major credit reporting agencies at least once every year. Check with the credit bureaus to see whether there is a charge for this service. Make sure your credit report is accurate and includes only those activities that you have authorized.
What should you do if you’re a victim of identity theft?
If you are a victim of identity theft, you should take three immediate steps:
- Contact your bank or credit card company if you have had your cheques or credit cards stolen or wrongfully obtained.
- Report the matter to your local police even if the crime ultimately may be investigated by a law enforcement agency from a different jurisdiction. In addition, a creditor may want to see a copy of a police report regarding the fraudulent transaction prior to correcting your credit account or credit report.
- Report your identity theft case immediately to the appropriate government and private-sector organizations. Keep copies of correspondence and documents related to the theft.