Identity TheftIdentity theft is becoming a very frequent crime. Identity theft ranges from use of stolen credit cards or credit card numbers, to outright assumption of anothers identity including opening new credit accouts, even car loans and mortgages in order to aquire cash or products that the identity theif has no intent to pay back. As a victim of identity theft, it is you who is left to clean up the mess and convince creditors that it was not you who made the purcahses or opened the account. And few credits will just take your word about it, so you can expect it to take significant time an expense to clean up the mess, if you are a vicitim.
The conquences of identity theft can be even worse when the thief uses your name in the commission of crimes, or to obtain employment or other benefit to which he or she might not be entitled. In some cases, the identity thief assumes your identity because he or she can not use his or her own identity because of outstanding arrest warrants or a ciminal record.
By now, it should be clear why you want to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. On this page I list some of the most important stepts you can take to avoid becomming a vicitim.
Shred, Shred, ShredAn identity thiefs first step in stealing your identity is to obtain information about you that may be useful to open accounts in your name, or to obtain identification in your name (but with their photo). A common source of such information is from your trash, in the credit card and bank statements, tax returns, and applications that you set out on your curb for the taking. May advice: if it has identitying information on it, shred it before discardings. Get a cross-cut shredder and use it regularly for documents you discard, including cancelled checks, bank and credit statements, tax documents (when you no longer need them), and even the junk "pre-approved" credit card applications you receive in the mail.
While your trash is not the only source of this information, the business you frequent might be careless in discarding your data, shredding your own documents removes one potential source of information for the identity thief.
Be careful about giving out private informationDon't give out personal information to those who call you by phone. Even if they claim to be your bank, the police, or the jury commissioner (yes, this happened in Orange county). You do not know who is really on the other end of the phone. Also, don't respond with this information in email, and don't enter this information on the web if you reached a site by following links in e-mail you may have received.
Ask your bank and creditors to change your passwordDo not let them use the last four digits of your social security number or your mothers maiden name as a password. Ask them to let you use something else. You will have to remember what you alternate passwords are, but it is better than using information that is readily discoverable by an identity thief, either from public records or other means.
Check your credit report regularlySee my credit reports page for information on how to view you report and what to look for to find out if someone else is using your identity.