Recently, an employee of a major United States airline had his travel bag stolen. Although it didn’t contain any high ticket items such as expensive electronics or jewelry, it was the most expensive personal theft reported to the local police in a decade. Aside from a change of clothing and a travel alarm clock, the victim’s bag contained only his wallet, checkbook and employee identification. With these three personal documents, the thief managed to fraudulently purchase over three-hundred thousand dollars worth of items at the victim’s expense.
Identity theft is defined as the deliberate assumption of another person's identity for the purpose to gain access to their finances, their confidential information or to set-up or “frame’ another for a crime. According to the Justice Department, over the past five years, an average of ten million Americans each year are victims of some type of identity theft. These victims each averaged from $1,850.00 to $14,000 in loss. This figure does not include lost time and wages stemming from court appearances and time communicating with creditors as well as law enforcement and legal professionals. One of perhaps the most alarming statistics is the fact 68% of the victims report that even after they believed that their information was corrected with their creditors after they provided police reports, etc., there still remained negative information on their records.
It is estimated that 2 out of every 5 people have been or will be victims of identity theft.
Here are a few tips that may help you avoid becoming another statistic:
1. Never give out your personal information to someone who calls you. Many scams include persons posing as bank or credit card employees. This includes not disclosing your PIN number. There is no retailer, credit card company or bank that will ever ask you for that specific information.
2. Secure and keep in a safe place all of your personal documentation, i.e. social security card, birth certificate, check book, credit cards etc.
3. Keep track of your credit spending and bank information. Know ALL of your account balances. If you do not spend excessively by charging high amounts on your debit or credit cards each month, notify your card issuers and bank of that fact. They may then be able to “red flag” any sudden large purchases by contacting you directly for authorization.
4. Keep any paper statements to a minimum. Many companies now give their customers the option of paperless or on-line invoicing and billing. If you do have a need for paper records, a paper shredder is the best way to dispose of sensitive personal information.
5. Bill paying, doing your taxes and purchasing products on-line can be safe and sometimes even safer that carrying large amounts of cash or using credit cards at a store. Just make sure that you are accessing internet sites that are safe to use. In most cases, the larger retailers are set up for safe and secure transactions. Don’t forget that how you access the internet is just as important as the sites you visit. Make sure that you utilize a secure server for your computer. In many cases, coffee shops, cafes and public parks are not secure places to be sending personal and sensitive information from.
6. Whether you get your credit or bank statements on-line or in the mail, don’t just put them in a folder or drop them in a drawer. Scrutinize every purchase and question the out of the ordinary. Aside from fraud and theft, credit card companies, retailers and even banks make mistakes.
7. Lastly, keep all contact information for your credit card issuers and banks separate from your personal information.