Who, or where, is an identity theft victim waiting to happen? Indeed, how many times- unknown to you- have you cheated ”identity death”? And just how much within the identity fraudster’s reach are you- or someone dear to you?
Given the realities of these times, the questions posed above are very pertinent. Arguably, the socio-economic desperation of contemporary times is most acutely reflected in the activities of identity thieves. In the USA, an identity is stolen every 4 seconds; in a year, about 10million Americans fall victim of identity fraud. In Great Britain, an identity theft occurs every 4 minutes and the country loses 1.3billion annually to this crime. Globally, identity theft is estimated to be in excess of 2Trillion, as losses have been found to exceed 300% of annual growth rate.
The ‘success rate’- and indeed frequency- of identity theft activities would ordinarily tend to suggest that the perpetrators of such deeds are hyper-dynamic, super-intelligent people whose efforts can’t be thwarted. But such a view cannot be farther from the truth.
What, then, is the truth?
Simply this: the steps you need to protect yourself against identity theft are straightforward and affordable. Yet, the benefits are immense. You therefore don’t have to be an identity theft victim waiting to happen. However, you need less complacency regarding the risks posed by the activities of an identity criminal. You need, as a starting point, to become aware that identity theft is a reality today, and that no one is quite immune without taking necessary protective steps- such as are discussed in subsequent paragraphs.
Beginning with your personal information, your attitude henceforth should be strict, careful and thorough. Your biodata, contact details,etc must not be given out unless you have confirmed the genuineness of the organisation requesting these from you; many identity theft syndicates have been known to pose as authentic companies requesting such. Avoid giving out your personal information over the phone; your dialogue over the airwaves is not as confidential as you think- identity theft is big business, and the perpetrators stop at nothing to get vital personal details.
When you deal with companies online, have a different password for each of them. Also limit the sharing of your personal information with affiliates of companies you deal with.
It’s important that you examine your bank statements closely; ensure in particular that your name and address are correctly printed. Shred- completely and always- your credit card offers.
One of your best protection measures is to freeze your credit files. This controls who can access your credit reports. You need to monitor your credit report regularly, in addition to placing a restriction on other persons’ access to your credit/debit cards. Check your account information when you dine out; also put a stop to pre-approved credit offers.
Be very alert when you use your PIN at the cash machine; be particularly wary of persons who appear to come physically too close during such periods. Also ensure that you change your PIN regularly- use numbers that will always be difficult for others to guess, but easy for you to recall.
Utmost care is required in handling your Social Security Number. Guard it, keep it ‘close to your chest’, a priceless secret! Don’t carry it around.
Delete your name from Credit Bureau marketing lists.
You can make use of Fraud Alerts, where the VERBAL verification of an individual’s identity is required before a change is made to their credit.
Protect your computer from virus and spies. Be particularly careful with sensitive information on your computer. Avoid using family members’ names, dictionary words or easy-to-guess words, as your password. Again, ensure you use a combination of hard-to-guess words and characters, that you can easily recall.
The aforementioned are effective protection steps against identity theft. Beyond these, however, you may choose to go the extra mile by securing the services of an identity protection agency. Generally, such outfits provide comprehensive and user-friendly protection service covering personal information, credit reports, computer, internet and mobile phones. Some also help facilitate safety of the individual’s public records such as licences, utilitites, and court records not covered in credit reports.