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How to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft is when someone wrongfully obtains and uses another’s personal information. Instances of online identity theft are increasing, because with more and more consumers making transactions online, your private information has never been more at risk. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re completely helpless; knowing a few identity theft protection tips will help you secure your private information—and keep hackers at bay.

Below you’ll find different ways to prevent identity theft, as well as a few common examples of how it may occur.

How Identity Theft Occurs

Criminals today aren’t just lurking the streets waiting to steal your purse or wallet – they’re actually at home, on computers, using high-tech software that was created to quickly, easily and often discreetly gain access to your personal information.

While there are a variety of different ways hackers today try to gain your personal information, one of the most common types is called the phishing scam. This is where criminals mask themselves as legitimate businesses. The phisher will send you an email, usually claiming some sense of urgency, saying you’re behind on your bills and must make a payment immediately or face jail time. COLLECTION AGENCIES CANNOT DO THIS. The IRS and other collection agencies have no authority to arrest you for late or bounced charges; any agency claiming to do so is automatically illegitimate. They can, however, issue warrants for you to appear in court.

Common Examples of Identity Theft

Because phishing emails usually contain some type of legitimate logo and almost always have a sense of urgency, your first reaction is to make a payment immediately. Usually, phishers will use one of the following lines:

  • “Our company has decided to test for free the security of the email services that you use. We hope you understand that we are doing this for your own safety. We suggest you access the following form.”
  • “We have detected a slight error in your information. Please update and verify your information by clicking the link below. If your account information is not updated within 48 hours, then your ability to use your [company] account will be restricted.”
  • “During our regular update and verification of the [type of account], we could not verify your current information. As a result, your access to use our services has been limited. To update your account information and start using our services please click on the link below.”

After you click on the link, you’ll be taken to a dummy website where you’re encouraged to fill out a form, putting your bank accounts, credit card information or other personal data into the hands of the identity thief. These fake websites often look exactly like the legitimate businesses, financial institutions, or government agencies. Before you click on the link, stop to reflect for a moment. Check the website’s authenticity by doing a quick Google search for more information and calling the institution first.

Warning Signs

In order to prevent identity theft, you need to be aware of the warning signs. Time is money, especially when it comes to your financial information, and the sooner you realize your personal information is at risk, the better chance you have at lessening the damages. Be on the lookout if:

  • Your financial statements don’t arrive. In such a situation, the thief might be stealing your statements from your mailbox or has successfully forwarded your statements to another address.
  • You’ve noticed a new credit card account opened in your name. Once they used all available credit and don’t pay the balances, the delinquent accounts will show on your credit report.
  • You receive credit denial letters from financial institutions that you did not apply.
  • You’ve found examples of counterfeit checks, credit cards, debit cards or electronic transfers in your name.
  • You’ve received notice of a new phone or wireless service in your name.
  • You are turned down for a credit card, mortgage or any other type of loan for no apparent reason. The denial could be a result of unpaid loans taken out by identity thieves under your name.
  • You receive collection calls and letters from creditors demanding payment on goods and services that you did not purchase.

How to Prevent Identity Theft

A good rule of thumb is to never give out any financial information over the phone or online unless you contacted the receiver first. Memorizing your various passwords and PIN numbers instead of carrying them with you will also help minimize your risk of identity theft. The most important preventive method is to review your credit report from each credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) annually. Because you’re entitled to one free credit report per bureau per year, checking your report costs you nothing and is the best way to spot and hopefully prevent identity theft.

Other steps you can take to help prevent identity theft include:

  • Removing your name and contact information from marketers’ unsolicited mailing lists.
  • Terminating unused credit card and bank accounts.
  • Shredding all documents containing personal information.
  • Keeping passports, social security, birth certificate and other important personal documents in a safe.

Identity theft is a serious issue, and cases of theft are on the rise. If you feel your financial information has been compromised, contact your money lending facility immediately. Otherwise, use these tips to help keep your private information private.

Also see:

Identity Theft Statistics and Information

How to Report Identity Theft

Protect Yourself from Phishing

CreditGuard’s Credit Monitoring Service