Victims of Identity Theft are estimated to number over 8 million every year. No one knows exactly how much these victims have lost to Identity Theft, but we can all be rest assured that every one of the them suffers a reduced self-esteem and the very sudden need to clear a name and rebuild a reputation which before now stayed unblemished.
While Identity theft cannot be completely stamped out from the system as a result of unwholesome credit industry practices, carelessness on the part of information-handlers (merchants, transaction processing companies), and the ease to which Social Security Numbers can be obtained, it is imperative that everyone try to close ranks by making it more difficult for thieves to obtain information under their watch.
1. Be Informed
A most important tool when fighting Identity Theft is knowing what it is all about. With an increased knowledge level, individuals are less likely to expose themselves unknowingly. The U.S Department of Justice has a web page www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html which explains much of what there is to Identity Theft in detail. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse also has credible information that compliments what is here.
2. Check Credit Reports & Account Balances Regularly
Under Federal Law, you have the right to obtain a free credit report from the 3 main credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – once every year. The states of Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, and Georgia also have laws enabling residents obtain an additional credit report per year, 2 additional credit reports in Georgia. By checking credit reports at least once every year, you are more likely to catch identity theft early on. Some transactions will impose liability on the victim based on how early it’s reported to the authorities.
3. Don’t Give Out Personal Information Too Freely
Too many people make the mistake of not knowing when to give out their personally identifiable information (PII). These PII’s include but are not limited to your Social Security Number, Bank Account Numbers, Credit Card Numbers & Expiration dates, Phone Calling Cards, Driver License Number. Thieves have various means of finding out any of these PIIs which often includes calling the victim posing as a representative of a financial institution or other company in need of the numbers.
As a rule of thumb, never give out sensitive information over the internet, phone or by mail. In cases, where you feel a transaction doesn’t warrant for example, your social security number, request that a company policy warranting such information be shown to you.
4. Use Intelligent Passwords & PINS
Intelligent Passwords are usually a combination of numbers and letters. Never use your birth date, pet’s or child’s’ name, middle name, mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number in creating passwords and PINS as these are easily guessed by a determined thief. Consecutive or rhyming numbers should not be used. Also avoid writing down your passwords and PINS except where the paper is stored in a safe or some place very secure.
5. Identity Theft Protection
Popular Identity Theft Protection services such as LifeLock, Identity Truth and credit monitoring services by the 3 main credit bureaus will charge anywhere from $10 – $200 to keep your identity away from thieves. These services are somewhat reliable but should not be the sole source of protection.
6. Order a Renewed Drivers’ License
As of December 17th 2005, it become illegal for state motor vehicle departments to use your Social Security Number as your Driver License number under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Individuals carrying an older drivers license still using the social security number can order to receive a renewed drivers license by informing their states’ motor vehicles department.
7. Install a Firewall & Antivirus
Every computer under your control should have a firewall and antivirus installed. Computers connected to public networks are at risk of being hacked, with sensitive information retrieved from their hard drives. Installing internet security protection applications decreases your level of risk to hackers and viruses retrieving sensitive information.