What is "Identity Theft" or "Identity Fraud"? Simply, identity theft is committed when another person's name, Social Security number or other personal information is used to apply for credit, buy goods and services, or commit other fraud. Identity theft is now a federal crime and recently stiffened penalties were put in place but you should still take measures to protect yourself. And if you should be victimized there are steps you can take to minimize your loss.
- Most homeowner policies can include identity fraud coverage. The coverage is inexpensive, especially relative to the extra protection and peace of mind it can provide.
- Take care when using email because email is not secure. The way to think about email is like a post card. You expect that people other than an addressee might see what is on a post card and you should expect the same thing of email and use it accordingly. Avoid emailing information like your social security number or passwords.
- Always check to see if a web site is secure before transacting business or sending information (the web address will begin with "https" instead of "http"; e.g., https://example.com). Avoid clicking on links in emails if you are unsure of the source. It is safer to copy and paste an address (www.example.com, e.g.) than to click a link directly.
- Consider using a browser with fewer security issues. Internet Explorer has a number of well documented security flaws. Also, hackers tend to target IE because of its broad use. An alternative browser is Mozilla"s Firefox which can be downloaded for free.
- Don't leave sensitive information lying around. Employ a "clean desk" policy. Buy and use a shredder. They are inexpensive and can help avoid a lot of heartache in the future. Most identity fraud is still paper based - computer crimes accounted for only 12% of all identity theft in 2004 and on line fraud cost $551 on average while paper based fraud averaged $4,543.
- Check your credit card and bank statements when they arrive; always scan for unauthorized transactions.
- Instead of signing credit or debit cards, write "See photo ID" in the signature space. Cashiers are more likely to ask to see the users drivers license this way.
- Be aware of phishing scams in which an unsolicited email asks you to link to a site and provide personal information. These sites look just like legitimate sites. Past phishing scams have centered on legitimate sites like eBay, Citibank and Earthlink. Frequently, but not always, the "s" is omitted from the web address (i.e., http://ebay.com not https://ebay.com). Be suspicious of unsolicited emails that suggest your account has been or might be suspended unless you provide social security numbers, IDs and passwords. You can see examples of past phishing scams and can often verify potential scams by checking this site: http://antiphishing.org/phishing_archive.html.
If you are victimized don"t wait to report the crime to authorities, your creditors and to your insurance provider. The three major credit bureaus should also be alerted. The Federal Trade Commission has toll-free hotline to general information about identity theft and how to resolve related problems. The number operates Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. EST at 877-IDTHEFT. Victims can also file complaints online at http://www.ncdoj.gov/help-for-victims/id-theft-victims.aspx.