Identity theft is a crime in which someone obtains key pieces of information about you such as Social Security and driver's license numbers to obtain credit, merchandise and services in your name. You can be left with ruined credit and the complicated burden of regaining financial health.
The imposter may even use your name for criminal activities. It is a dual crime --- a crime committed against an individual whose name and good credit history become ruined and against businesses who lose cash and goods.
How do thieves get your information?
They go through your trash, looking for straight cut or unshredded papers.
They steal your mail or your wallet.
They listen in on conversations that you have in public.
They trick you into giving them the information over the telephone or by email.
They buy the information either on the Internet or from someone who might have stolen it.
They steal it from a loan or credit card application form you completed or from files at a hospital, bank, school or business that you deal with. They may have obtained it from dumpsters outside of such companies.
They get it from your computer, especially those without firewalls.
They may be a friend, relative, or co-worker who has access to your information.
Did you know...
- Health insurance cards may have your Social Security Number on it as well as your dependents.
- A military ID has your Social Security Number on the card.
Prevent Identity Theft
Here are some guidelines to help decrease your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Be suspicious of telephone solicitors. Never provide information unless you have initiated the call. You can get on the Pennsylvania "Do Not Call" list. There is also a National "Do Not Call" registry.
Do not reply to any suspicious email requests. Pay particular attention to email attachments sent from a suspicious email. Delete these messages and attachments.
Beware that email messages can be cleverly designed to deceive the recipient in thinking that it actually came from a reputable company. And, just because the reply-to address seemingly goes to the company, it may not. Also, pay attention to the links that are sent to you within an email message. For example, an email message from Yahoo (http://yahoo.com) should not send you to an address like: http://123.456.789.
- Reduce the amount of pre-approved credit cards and shred them before putting them in the trash. You can call 1-888-5OPT OUT or visit the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection web site for more information.
- Shred or tear banking and credit card statements when throwing them in the trash.
- Check your credit report yearly to make sure no one has set up false accounts in your name.
- Guard your personal information. Be cautious as to who might be listening when you give out your personal information, credit card numbers, etc.
- Avoid carrying your Social Security card in your wallet. Also, do not give your Social Security Number to anyone unless they have a good reason for needing it. Ask questions when you are asked to provide your Social Security Number; ask questions as to how that information will be safeguarded.
- Don't allow a clerk to write your Social Security Number on your check as a condition of cashing the check.
- Use a post office box or a secured mailbox. Don't use an unlocked, open box at work for your outgoing mail; take it directly to the mailroom.