Understanding Identity Theft: How to Prevent it and What To Do When it Happens

Today, identity theft is a realer threat than ever before. After Target’s recent data breach sent hordes of consumers into a frenzied panic, people quickly shed the “it will never happen to me” attitude. One of the largest data hacks in American history, the breach lasted nearly three weeks and covered the busiest shopping time of the year: Black Friday through Christmastime. Over the course of that time, the credit and debit card information of over 40 million shoppers was compromised. The imminence and severity of this threat necessitates that all consumers fully understand identity theft and how to prevent it. Therefore, we’ve put together this list of frequently asked questions to help you take measures to protect yourself.

How Are Identities Stolen?

Identities are stolen in plenty of ways. The following are the more common ways in which scam artists have been known to steal private information:

  • Stealing wallets or pick pocketing.
  • Searching trashcans for credit card slips.
  • Hacking into computers that contain individuals’ private information
  • Spying over shoulders at ATMs to collect PIN numbers.
  • “Phishing”, or using a phony email address to trick receivers into giving up information. These emails are often made to look like they have been sent from a reliable source.
  • Sending fake texts, stating the recipient has won a prize or special offer and must click on a link in order to receive it
  • Impersonating someone or creating any kind of fake scenario in order to get someone to give up private information. This could involve posing as a telemarketer or prospective employer and asking for personal material.

How Can I Prevent My Identity From Being Stolen?

We suggest taking the following precautions in order to protect your private information:

  • Avoid giving out personal details to anyone, unless you are absolutely sure they are reliable
  • Frequently check your monthly credit card statements for unauthorized charges
  • Shred all materials containing sensitive information before tossing them in the trash
  • Never leave receipts behind in a public area
  • When out, keep tabs on your wallet and credit cards at all times
  • Stash your Social Security card in a safe place at home and avoid taking it out in public with you
  • Create passwords that are difficult to hack and change them regularly
  • Use a firewall and secure browser on your computer.
  • Download virus protection software
  • Never download files or click on links that have come from an unfamiliar source
  • Refrain from responding to texts or emails from contacts you don’t recognize
  • Avoid purchasing items online unless you are sure the vendor and their website are reliable

What Should I do if My Identity is Stolen?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you believe your identity is stolen, you should take the following three immediate steps:

  • Place an initial fraud alert
  • Order your credit reports
  • Create an identity theft report

For a more detailed account of these recommendations and instruction for further action, visit the FTC website.

As identity theft becomes an increasingly common offense, you can never be too careful with your personal details. Err on the safe side, and constantly monitor your credit statements so you don’t fall victim to this invasive and distressing crime.

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