Identity theft is a growing problem. When someone steals your identity, he or she uses your personal information: your name, your credit card number or your Social Security details. An identity thief can use your name to get a credit card, to take a loan or to rent an apartment. Stealing personal information is surprisingly easy, so what steps can you take for identity theft protection?
What Does Identity Theft Protection Mean?
Every year millions of people have their identities stolen in the US alone. They may not find out about it until someone has taken loans or opened telephone accounts on their name, or used their credit card. If your identity has been stolen, it may be relatively easy or very difficult to deal with the possible damage.
If someone has used your credit card without your knowledge and built up thousands of dollars of debts, you may have a difficult time repairing your damaged credit record. While many people manage to handle identity theft successfully and quickly, some have to deal with the consequences for years. It is important to take adequate measures for identity theft protection. It is usually easier to protect your personal information than to deal with the consequences theft.
Tips for Identity Theft Protection
There are several steps you can take for more effective identity theft protection. You should try to make it harder for fraudsters to find and use your personal information. Protecting your computer is one of the most important things you can do, as an increasing amount of theft happens online. Make sure your computer has a comprehensive anti-spyware program that protects it from viruses, spyware, worms and other malware that can steal personal details. Keep the program up to date and always use a firewall when you go online.
When using social networking sites, be careful with how much personal information you reveal. Use the sites’ privacy settings for identity theft protection and password-protect your information. Do not reveal bank account numbers, Social Security numbers or any other personal information on social networking sites because they can be stolen or used by anyone.
Never give your passwords to anyone, even to a friend or a colleague. Keep all your computer passwords secret and do not write them down. Do not use the same password for everything and do not choose passwords that are easy to guess. Surprisingly many people choose passwords that are easy to guess, such as a spouse’s name or a family pet’s name. It is recommended that you change all your passwords every three months.
If you receive an email that seems to be from your bank or another financial institution, and that asks you to click on a link to provide personal information or to change a password, it is generally a phishing scam. Phishing scams are used by fraudsters who pretend to represent a bank or a legitimate organization. They send an email that claims your account information is out of date or you have to change your personal information. If you fall for the scam and provide the information, it will be stolen and used for fraudulent purposes.
Some of these emails can look legitimate. They may even have a company logo that looks exactly like the actual company’s logo. Remember that real banks or other trustworthy institutions never ask you to click on a link to provide personal information. If you have received a phishing email and followed the link, you should report it to your bank immediately.
What Happens with Stolen Information
If you have not taken any measures for identity theft protection, stealing your information is easy. Thieves can send phishing emails. They may use devices attached to ATMs to steal your debit card number. They may even look through garbage bins hoping to find bank statements, telephone bills and other details. If your wallet has been stolen, it is likely that you have lost some money – but it is more serious if you have lost anything that includes personal data, such as credit cards or ID cards.
An identity thief can use the stolen data to open a credit card using your name or to use your credit card number for their own purchases. You will only find out about the purchases when you see them on your credit card bill. They may open a telephone or internet account using your information. If they have managed to get your bank details they can open bank accounts and write checks in your name. They could take out a personal loan in your name. They can also get identity cards in your name or apply for state benefits using your Social Security number. They can even rent an apartment using your information.
How to Deal with Identity Thieves
Always check your credit card statements and bank statements carefully. If you notice any strange charges or payments, contact your credit card company or your bank immediately. Checking your credit card statement and bank statement every time you receive them is an important part of identity theft protection. Even if your credit card information has been stolen, you may be able to limit the amount of damage.
If someone has already managed to use your information, you may find out that they have taken a loan in your name and have not paid it. You will then have a problem with the creditor and there will be a negative impact on your credit report. You may find out that someone has used your name to build up thousands of dollars of debts. If someone is using your information to get state benefits it can take time before you find out.
You should then notify your creditors immediately and, in some cases, file a police report. You should also dispute any credit card transactions or bank transactions you are not responsible for. This should be done as soon as you find out about the theft. In all cases it is important to take the necessary steps for identity theft protection before the fraud happens.