Recent stories in the news have made it clear that there is a new crime threat taking over the nation. The crime is identity theft and its reach and ramifications are much more far reaching than most fathom.
What is ID Theft?
Identity theft is very simply the criminal use of your most personal information without your knowledge. Your name, your address, your credit card number, your social security number, and birthday are all a part of your identity. They make a profile by which businesses and institutions can match you with your information. Your personal information is your access to banking, hospitals, buying and selling. In short, any transaction requiring anything more than cash will require your personal information.
When people’s identities are stolen, it is not just limited to credit cards. Personal information can be used for health insurance, car insurance, and your credit rating. If someone happens to get a hold of enough information they can have access to all of the above and take advantage of you.
What are some scenarios?
Mail boxes are a very easy way for people to steal information. You leave mail in your box overnight and forget about it. Everybody does and everyone is very vulnerable on this count.
Take the trash out very often? Even if you don’t, then consider the fact that people leave receipts, credit card information and all kinds of important paper work in their trash cans. This is an easy target for criminals.
Someone may have your account information and request a change of address. They request a new card to be sent to a new address, their own.
People don’t realize prevalent eavesdropping is. today. Conversations on your cell phone, and ATM transactions are both very easy to detect and glean information.
Reports show that many(more than half of all identity) thefts occur by people who are familiar with those whom they are ripping off. These people know your information simply through association and/or work. They can take billing information from clients and customer of yours and divert money into their own accounts.
The Internet is the most high profile and pervasive form of identity theft. Recent headlining news has focused specifically on this epidemic. 44 million people have become victims. The average victim spent over 600 hours and over 1300 dollars just to restore their identities.
According to federal authorities, identity theft over the Internet is a relatively easy thing to do. Small pieces of information are all that are necessary to fabricate a fake ID or use to get a new credit card. There is a huge black market where people can actually buy up personal information. In 2003, the total dollar amount of fraud amounted to over 52 millions dollars. Cars and homes have been bought under false identities and reputations have been ruined.
What do You Do?
There is little that the government can do at this point. They simply have not developed a solution to this very complex and large scale problem of ID theft. The laws are there, but there is no real way to enforce them. And credit card companies? Well let’s just say that their version of ID theft protection is the equivalent of a band aid on a broken arm. Some credit companies might reimburse you for products you did not purchase. However, very few offer any real ID protection. They will refer you to agencies who specialize in giving counsel in these situations.
Here’s What I recommend
One needs to be proactive in these situations. This proactivity comes in the form of getting and reviewing your credit report on a regular basis. Ideally, this means once a month. The reports you will be getting are from three major companies, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. This will cost you about thirty dollars for each report. The reports will give you your full credit report and monitor for any suspicious activity. If you detect any red flags on your report you can report it immediately to the credit bureaus. They will investigate the situation. Hopefully, they will have detected the problem early on.
Fixing the Problem
If your ID has been tainted, you need to fix the problem- restore your identity. This is a separate service and now some companies are offering insurance for this very issue. The best ID protection plan that I know of is with Pre paid legal. They not only offer monthly credit reporting and monitoring, they have full ID restoration program with the finest investigative company available. The program is around twelve dollars a month.
Peace of Mind
Rest assured, there are people out there who are willing to help and protect your ID for a nominal fee. Take the time to sign on for ID protection and you will breathe a sigh of relief.