It is a harrowing time when suffering either from identity theft or credit card fraud. The two types of crime are distinctly different, yet they are in the same in one aspect: An individual has gotten hold of something of yours and they are using it to convince others that they are you. The net result is that, once they convince others that they are you, they are entitled to the benefits of being you.
You were responsible. You maintained your credit and banking accounts in good standing. You are a legal citizen or visitor in your country. You never committed crimes, are not under investigation and you have a steady income that is the result of your hard work and self discipline. Your identity is very valuable to someone who has problems in any of these areas, including illegal immigrants, the unemployed, those with criminal histories or people who have forms of mental illness that turn them into compulsive thieves or con artists.
Credit and debit card fraud:
Credit and debit card fraud is a subset of identity theft that can stand alone as a prosecutable and financially troubling crime. There are several ways in which the physical credit or debit card, or the card number and access codes are obtained. One of the most common ways is to steal the card, then to make purchases that do not qualify for checking a photo ID.
The credit option on banking debit cards bypasses the need to use a personal identification number. Purchases that fall below a particular store’s dollar limit do not even require a signature on the credit card transaction. If the credit card is used, the same situations apply.
Online, there are any number of “phishing” scams that trick a customer into going to a bogus website, entering credit card, banking account, pin number and password, and finding out too late that they just gave away the bank to someone who will probably never get caught. The alarming e-mails and bogus websites are extremely convincing, although some have errors and misspellings that give them away.
Once the data is collected, any number of actions that the customer can do, can be done by the thieves, including withdrawals, transfers, online shopping and more, but cash transactions are the fastest and least traceable once the money is gone.
The bottom line is that, with a card and/or the proper information, the bank or store has no idea that the person is not you!
To prevent online identity theft, the most important thing to remember is to never use a link in any e-mail to access your online credit card and banking sites! Report any theft or loss of credit and debit cards, wallets or purses as soon as possible so that the cards can be frozen. Get to know how your bank or credit card company will reimburse you if your card is misused.
Use your bills and other official documents to get and to bookmark the correct web address of the banking or credit card site.
Never use Google or another search engine to get there. The tiny differences in URL lettering are very good at fooling people, and what looks like a URL for your bank can lead you to a fake website where the whole ID theft process begins.
Complete identity theft is another matter. This is when the complete identity, along with social security number, official identification cards or driver’s licenses, faked birth certificates and other documents and information are used. When the new person’s photo is substituted, it is possible to open credit accounts, get loans, get bank cards and to conduct other business, such as getting an apartment or a job. To vendors, employers, and financial firms, the person literally becomes the person who’s identity has been taken. Until the real person checks their credit, is contacted by law enforcement or is contacted by collectors, this can go on for years.
When the identity thief wants to abandon responsibility, the real person is held responsible for the debts and can even be arrested if their identity was used in commission of more crimes. It is a harrowing and difficult process to restore reputation and credit, often at great costs that are never recovered.
There are as many new ways of stealing identity as there are new ways to protect identity, but keeping social security numbers, address, banking information and other identity documents safe, or reporting their loss as soon as it is discovered will help. There is even a way, in many states, to freeze credit with the three major credit agencies. This reversible procedure prevents identity thieves from opening new accounts where those three agencies are used to check credit.
For more help and information, Clark Howard and About.com have excellent and extensive identity theft pages.