One of the shredded documents used in the DARPA Shredder Challenge.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it without. It is one of the fasting growing crimes in the nation. Advances in technology have come at a price, since it has become easier than ever for identity thieves to steal your identity and cause chaos in your life. It can take months and, sometimes even years to resolve the problems that identity thieves have caused to a victim's finances, reputation and credit record. Some victims of identity theft have lost job opportunities, been refused mortgages and other loans, been denied education and even been arrested for crimes they did not commit.
If you experience the following, your information may have been stolen:
- There are unexplained withdrawals from your bank accounts.
- There are unexplained purchases on your credit cards.
- You are not receiving bills in the mail.
- Vendors refuse your checks or credit cards.
- You receive calls from debt collectors about debts you are unaware of.
- You receive bills from medical providers for services you have not used.
- The Internal Revenue Service asks questions about matters you are unaware of.
- You are arrested for a crime committed in your name, which you did not commit.
- If you suspect your identity has been stolen, you must act fast to minimize the damage the thief will cause. You should:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit file with one of the nation's three credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
- Ask for a free copy of your credit report.
- Monitor your accounts for any unusual activity.
- Make a police report at your local police department and get a report number.
- Create an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.
When you receive your credit report, immediately dispute any fraudulent activities. Similarly, dispute any bills you receive that are fraudulent. Creditors will want to see evidence of your identity theft report and your police report.
The best way to avoid the horrors of identity theft is to protect your personal information so that it doesn't happen in the first place. Prevention is definitely better than trying to cure identity theft. Here are some tips to help you prevent identity theft:
- Do not give vital information such as your Social Security Number, date of birth or driver's license number over the phone.
- Do not send vital information in an e-mail.
- Be sure that any online purchases are from reputable vendors.
- Do not throw mail out with your trash without shredding it.
- Only write checks to reputable vendors.
- Do not have your full name and address printed on your checks.
- Ensure that nobody is watching you as you enter your PIN at checkouts and ATMs.
- Do not sign the back of credit cards. Instead, write "SEE PHOTO ID" - this requires vendors to check that it is you using your cards.
- Check your account statements regularly to detect any irregularities.
- Do not entrust your credit cards to anyone else.
- Do not carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet.
Should you receive a telephone call from someone who says they are from your bank and requesting your personal information, hang up the phone. Your bank or other financial institution will never ask for information over the phone. Be as careful as possible in sharing important information about yourself. It is better to be safe than sorry.