Attorney General Rob McKenna noted how “More and more often, victims are being denied jobs and being denied insurance as a result of their credit being destroyed by identity theft.”
In this how-to guide, we will cover what identity theft is, how it happens, and tips to prevent identity theft from happening to you or those close to you.
What is Identify Theft?
Identify theft is when a criminal uses a person’s personal details or information to assume their identity. It is usually done to obtain credit. Identity theft can be as simple as using your credit card details to make a purchase, or as complex as applying for a passport, claiming state benefits, and applying for a loan under your name.
How Does My Identify get Stolen?
To understand how to prevent your identity from being stolen, you must understand how it can happen. There are many ways that a person’s identity that can be stolen:
- If you buy something online while your computer is compromised (e.g. a keylogger on your computer records your credit card details and sends it to criminals).
- If you lose your wallet and a criminal finds it.
- If you don’t shred confidential documents before putting them in the garbage.
- A company’s database of customer information is leaked on the Internet or hacked into by criminals.
- And there are many more ways!
One problem with identity theft is that it is difficult to know by what specific method the criminals have obtained your information.
For example, a fraudster in the UK was jailed for four years after stealing the credit card details of 35,000 motorists. The fraudster did it by replacing credit card reader at several different gas stations with ones that collected customer information. The criminal’s credit card readers would broadcast people’s credit card details wirelessly so the fraudster could pick them up using a laptop. You can learn more about this story here.
Ways to Prevent Identity Theft
It is difficult, if not impossible, to protect yourself against all types of identity theft. The above UK gas station scam would have gained the credit card details the most careful of individuals.
However, there are things you can do to make it much harder for criminals – you can make it harder for them to get your details in the first place, and you can thwart their attempts to use your details if they already have them.
Here are several easy steps you can take:
• Report Lost or Stolen Details – If your credit cards are lost or stolen, you should cancel them immediately. If you have lost your passport or any other form of identification, you should report it to the issuing organization.
• Guard your Personal Information – Be wary of giving out information about yourself or your bank account, especially if someone has contacted you unexpectedly. If in doubt, don’t give out any details until you’ve 100% sure that they are genuine.
• Keep your Documents Safe – Don’t carry confidential documents or your credit cards when you don’t need them. While it’s tempting to keep everything in your wallet for convenience, think of what a criminal could do with it. Ideally, you should always keep your details in a safe place at home, preferably in a safe or lockable cabinet. For valuable documents, you might even consider storing them in a safe deposit box.
• Protect your Details from Snoops – When giving out your information, make sure others cannot see or overhear your details. For example, when using an ATM, make sure nobody can see your PIN.
• Check Bank Statements for Suspicious Activity – If there are any unfamiliar transaction(s) on your bank statements, contact your bank and investigate the transaction immediately.
If you were wondering how to prevent identity theft, you should now appreciate it is through a combination of understanding and awareness of the problem. Protect your confidential information and be wary of who you give your details to.
If you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, act quickly to remedy the problem.