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Identity Theft and Identity Theft Investigations

What You Need to Know

Identity theft (also commonly known as ID theft) is a major concern. Criminals of all kinds buy or steal personal information for credit, jobs, or business ventures. If you are the victim of identity theft, you stand to lose a lot more than just your personal information. You can end up with lower credit scores, losing your property, and you may even end up being accused of crimes committed in your name. All of these are very good reasons to practice safety when using personal information.

Many people mistakenly assume that criminals need to get their credit cards or other identification to steal identities. This is not the case; in many instances, just your name, date of birth, and social security number are enough to steal your credit. Some criminals only need to know your address to steal your mail and get your information that way. Other criminals pose as someone else in order to get your information directly from you. You don't want to become paranoid, but do become more cautious about your information. Only offer your information to those who need to know.

Identity Theft in America

Every two seconds an American identity is stolen. The number of people affected by identity theft grew by 500,000 people from 12.6 Million in 2012 to 13.1 Million in 2013 with escalating losses as well. The state with the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft complaints was Florida followed by Georgia and California.

PInow put together an infographic highlighting ID theft in America. You can view the infographic below.

Identity theft infographic

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Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

There are numerous ways you can guard yourself from becoming an identity theft victim. Here are some tips:

  • Be stingy about giving out your personal information
  • Never keep your Social Security card on you
  • Keep all physical records locked up in a safe place
  • Do not display your birthday and other personal info on social networking sites such as: Facebook, with your birthday, place of birth, or other important information
  • Keep personal information private. Secure online data with a password that is difficult to crack and do not use the same passwords for other sites
  • Check your financial information regularly
  • Use a trusted internet connection. Do not use a public Wi-Fi spot
  • Be aware of surroundings when disclosing personal information over the phone or when using debit pin numbers
  • Shred all documents that have sensitive information
  • Do not open unsolicited emails that promise benefits but request personal information

Beware of phishing scams

Phishing is a scam that works very simply: fraudsters pose as a bank, utility company, or other legitimate company in an email or on the phone. They try to get your personal information by making you a special offer or by claiming that they need information from you because of security problems at the company. Don't fall for it. Call the company in question using the phone number listed in the phone book (not the number the fraudsters provide) and ask about any problems that way.

Protect your computer

Install anti-virus and firewall software on your system and keep all your programs updated with security patches and other updates. Hackers can use vulnerabilities in programs to view the contents of your computer and steal your personal information.

Look at the companies you do business with

Many criminals get information not directly from their victims, but from the companies their victims do business with. Make an inventory of the businesses you patronize and ask about each companys privacy policy. Ask all new businesses how your personal information is stored and used. Legitimate businesses are proud to tell you how they keep your data safe, since they spend so much time and effort doing just that. Any company that is vague or unclear about their policies does not deserve your business.

Investigate odd mail patterns immediately

If your mail stops coming or if you start getting bills or statements from accounts you do not have or companies you do not patronize, take notice! A common fraudster move is to have your mail redirected to a post office box, where it is opened and sifted for personal information. Some criminals steal credit card applications directly from your box and apply in your name. In any event, your mail is protected by federal law, so report any sign of tampering or concern at once.

Cover up and hide your personal information

When using ATMs, debit machines, or your identification cards, make sure that no one can see your card numbers or your PIN. Always know where your identification and credit cards are and stow them immediately after use.

Keep a paper trail

Keep receipts, bills, and other information about your accounts and bills. This may be important information in case you are a victim. If you have lots of paperwork, toss the envelopes and advertisements inside and keep the statements only in file folders.

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