7 percent of the US adult population. (FTC Releases Survey of Identity Theft in the U. S. Study Shows 8. 3 Million Victims in 2005) What is Identity theft? By definition, identity theft is what happens when someone other than ones self and without their knowledge uses his/her personal information such as social security and credit card numbers. With this information, it is easy for thieves to run up bills by ordering items on line or even apply for credit cards in the victims name. They of course get the benefit of spending while their poor victim is left with stacks of bills for purchases they did not make on cards they do not own.
Some of these victims have even gone to jail and made to pay up debts they were not even aware existed (Identity Theft: How to, 24. ) There are a number of ways by which identity thieves and credit card frauds can victimize unsuspecting and hardworking citizens. The growing number of reports of instances where people are penalized for bills and financial charges they were not even aware of is alarming. What is even more alarming however is very few people are aware of how such incidents may be prevented by simple common sense measures.
Detroit based Attorney and president of the American Bankruptcy Institute Richardo Kilpatrick stresses the importance of quick action saying that the longer the victim waits to dispute bills raised through fraud, the fewer rights they can expect to have. If not done properly, victims may be made responsible for the credit card charges. (24) To avoid credit card fraud and identity theft, the FTC along with other law enforcement and consumer advocacy groups recommend the following common-sense guidelines (Facts for Consumers) to protect themselves from identity theft and credit card fraud:
1. Keep your credit card in sight every time you use it. Make sure it is returned as quickly as possible. Unscrupulous people may easily write down your card number as well as other pertinent information found on your card. There are also electronic devices called skimmers (Shannon) that can not only read and copy card information embedded in the cards magnetic strip but also the verification codes that are needed by merchants to validate cards electronically from the issuing card companies.
All the data downloaded by the skimmer are all a card counterfeiter needs to produce perfect duplicates of credit cards. 2. Keep identification, licenses and credit cards separate from your wallet. In case you are out shopping and your wallet gets snatched, at least your Ids and credit cards remain safe. Jason King, a spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicles Administrators (AAMVA) says that there are many ways an identity thief or common burglar may use a stolen drivers license and credit card.
Access to someones drivers license, for example, leads to an amazing number of other opportunities in our society, he says, such as obtaining financial and health services, and everything else from renting a car to cashing a check and boarding an airplane. (Boulard) In a case cited in the US Department of Justice web site, a woman in the Southern District of Florida plead guilty to counts of federal charges on her applying for an obtaining a drivers license in the name of her victim.
The said license was used by the woman to withdraw more that $13,000 from her victims bank account as well as applying for and receiving five department store credit cards in her victims name which she the used to rack up bills amounting to $4,000. (Identity Theft para. 16) In some cases, where ID cards have been stolen, thieves have been known to break into the homes of their victims stealing from them a second time. 3. Ignore emails that request for credit card information for verification purposes.
Never entertain e-mail messages asking you to go to a web site to verify your personal and credit card information. There is a scam called phishing where computer-savvy identity thieves construct mirror web sites of legit companies such as PayPal or banks, that trick customers into divulging their personal and financial information. (OSullivan) 4. Sign credit cards as soon as you receive them. 5. Shred and dispose all credit card applications you receive in the mail. If thieves can get these applications it means they could also have gotten or have access to mail containing your personal information.
Some thieves also resort to low-tech and old fashioned methods such as swiping mail from mailboxes, diving through trash cans and dumpsters, or working in league with employees of postal and card companies. At times, they also work with employees at restaurants, hotels and establishments that accept credit card payments warns Johnny May, an independent security consultant and author of Johnny Mays Guide to Preventing Identity Theft: How Criminals Steal Your Personal Information, How to Prevent it, and What to Do if You Become a Victim (Security Resources Unlimited L. L. C.
) (Young) The FTC also advises bank clients to tear up the change of address: forms that come with bank statements. In some cases, mail, pre-approved credit cards and other financial documents have been diverted by identity thieves to another address simply by filling out the banks change of address form that they dug out of your dumpster. 6. Never write your PIN numbers on ATM and credit cards. Once the card is stolen, the readiness of information on the card will just make it easier for thieves to bypass whatever validation or verification processes done by the card companies.
When it comes to it, dont put slips of paper containing these PIN numbers in your wallet either. 7. Avoid leaving credit card receipts, bills and documents containing personal and financial information lying around even in familiar surroundings. In the magazine article Stolen Lives: Identity Theft Is the Countrys Fastest Growing Crime. Heres How to Protect Your Most Valuable Asset-You! by Stephanie Young, she details the experience of Tahira Scott who was victimized by her housemate who was also her cousin. We started getting bills in someone elses name.
Then two employees from a car dealership came to Scotts job to see if the person who had tried to purchase a vehicle in her name was actually her. Although she was a little suspicious, Scott says she had no idea about her cousins misdeeds. I just thought it was a mistake, she says. (Young) 8. Keep an updated record of all bank and credit card account numbers with their expiration dates. Make sure that you also take note of the address and contact numbers of the bank and issuing card company just in case your cards get misplaced or stolen.
There are people who realize that they cannot report credit card theft or losses simply because they have no record of their account and card numbers. 9. When using your credit card in public, it is better to be paranoid and shield your card from other peoples view just in case they manage to take pictures of your card face with all the info and numbers counterfeiters need. 10. Never carry around more credit cards than you need. The more cards a thief can get from you, the bigger the balances they can spend.
11. Do not delay opening your credit card bills. This may be crucial in determining whether you can still contest the charges made on your card. In my friend Brians case, his parents were away for months and therefore only got to open the bills when they got back. By then, it was too late to do anything but pay up or else suffer marks against their credit rating. 12. Keep receipts of purchases made with credit cards. That way, it will be easy to balance out credit card bills with purchases made.
Any charges made without corresponding hard copies of receipts may necessitate a call to the card company to verify the charge. Always keep tracks of your monthly financial statements. The reason why most thieves get away with their activities is because some people just do not scrutinize the monthly statements from their banks and credit cards. 13. Never sign a blank credit card receipt. If such a receipt is presented to you, draw a line on the blank spaces to make it impossible for anyone to fill in amounts later on. Do not just sign anything absent-mindedly.
As with contracts, signatures mean approval. And unfortunately, carelessness is not an acceptable reason in disputing bill payment collections. 14. Do not be taken in by calls from people offering prizes or credit cards with higher limits when they start asking for personal information. Social Security numbers, birthdays, mothers maiden name or credit card number, it is most likely a scam to get information out of you. Try to ask for a written application form or notice. Do not do over-the-phone transactions with people offering these kinds of things.