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Guarding Yourself Against Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the largest and fastest growing crimes in recent memory.  Simply put, identity theft is the unlawful assuming of another person’s identify for the purpose of stealing money, possessions, or obtaining financial loans or credit in the other person’s name.   The victim of this sort of theft may find themselves dealing with adverse circumstances if held accountable for the perpetrator’s actions, and individuals and organizations who were defrauded by the perpetrator may have to assume considerable losses.

Identify theft, or the more correct term, identity fraud, is broken down into five categories:

-          Business/commercial identity fraud – using another party’s business name to obtain credit

-          Criminal identity fraud – posing under another person’s name when arrested for a crime

-          Financial identity fraud – using another person’s identity to obtain credit, services, or goods

-          Identity cloning – using another person’s information to pose as that person in everyday life

-          Medical identity theft – using another person’s identity to obtain medical care or drugs

The single most common, and probably the original, method of identity fraud is known as dumpster diving.  This involves literally sorting through trash to obtain valuable information on another party, such as credit card numbers or social security information.

Dumpster diving may also include the scouring of old computers or other storage media that has been thrown out without being properly wiped first.  Remember that computers keep a record of every keystroke, every piece of information given, and that information can be extracted.

Shoulder surfing is another common method, whereby the thief simply  observes an individual entering their password or PIN information into a public IT equipment such as ATMs, then using that information to gain access to the person’s account.

The more high tech thieves will utilize computer viruses or Trojans to obtain person information, passwords, and account numbers directly from your computer.  They may also prowl social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook looking for private information posted on various individuals profiles.

Phishing is a widespread identity fraud problem, which involves the use of fraudulent e-mails designed to get the user to disclose personal financial information.  Phishing uses spam e-mails or pop ups, often designed to resemble reputable companies such as Bellsouth or eBay, saying that they urgently need information from you to prevent your account or card from being deactivated.  They will use the company’s actual logo and disclosure text, but the link provided takes you to a fake site (again, mimicking the real thing).  Once your information is entered, you will rapidly find your credit card maxed out or your bank account almost instantly drained.

There are of course, numerous other methods by which an unscrupulous individual may separate you from your money, and possessions, and credit standing, etc.  The bigger question becomes, how do you protect yourself against such a formidable threat?

For starters, take every available step to make sure your private information doesn’t get out.  Shred or better yet burn older papers and documents that feature your name, address, phone number, credit card or bank account numbers, social security information, etc.

Do not put your social security number on anything unless it is legally required.  And by all means do not have it printed on your checks.  If your driver’s license uses your social security number for your driver’s license number, see if it can be changed to a different number that has no other meaning whatsoever.

Check your credit reports at least once a year to make sure there are no new accounts that you were not aware of.  The major reporting agencies are:

-          Equifax — P.O. Box 105873, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5873 — Telephone: 1-800-997-2493

-          Experian Information  – P.O. Box 949, Allen, Texas, 75013-0949 — Telephone: 1-800-397-3742

-          TransUnion — P.O. Box 390, Springfield, Penn. 19064-0390 — Telephone: 1-800-916-8800

If you discover that you have been the victim of identity fraud, file a police report right away.  You will also need to contact the reporting agencies right away to have any erroneous items removed.  Keep in mind that it may take 60 days or more to have any disputed credit information purged from your account.

Never carry more credit cards than you plan to use, and most certainly do not carry your social security card.  If your wallet or purse is stolen, you have effectively handed them the key to your life.

Don’t throw out old bills or receipts with account numbers.  Shred them instead.

Never leave receipts behind, and check your receipts against your credit card statement every month.

Keep a tight grip on your wallet or purse.  Pickpocketing and purse snatching may seem old school, but they are still very common crimes and one of the easiest ways for crooks to obtain your information.

When traveling, suspend your mail delivery.  Bills plucked out of your mailbox are ripe with the information crooks need to bleed you dry.

Don’t use the same internet password on multiple sites.  Once the password is determined, it just becomes a matter of proceeding to each site one by one and doing as much damage as they can.

When online, be aware of any pop up that says your computer is affected or in need of repairs.  Clicking on the wrong one may just hand over your information to a cyber-crook… you will never find.

Keep your computer secure and protect by updating and running anti-virus software on a regular basis.

In the end, much of the protection against identity fraud is common sense.  Take the appropriate steps to protect your identity…..don’t let the lack of information make you another victim.


About the Author

Billy D Ritchie is the Director Of Content for LeadsByFone, LLC, a lead generation company servicing the flood cleaning and water damage restoration industry.

When not writing and educating folks about the perils of water damage, he is also a freelance writer, sometime actor, and formerly professional musician.  He also enjoys spending his weekends building and flying model rockets.


Josh Blue – Dumpster Diving in Aspen