Identity Theft

Background information on Identity Theft

Identity theft is a problem that has been around much longer than the Internet and is more of a problem offline than on. While the Internet can help criminals acquire the information they need to steal your identity, it is more often used to take advantage of victims once the critical information has been acquired. A much more common method of getting information such as Social Security number, credit card numbers, or banking information is from your snail-mailbox, personal or business trash, and lost or stolen wallets. The classic dumpster diving (going through your trash) method of getting critical information is one of the most common, since it's easy and relatively safe for the criminal. If you've ever thrown out a pre-approved credit card offer, old bank statement, old tax return, or any official form that contained personal information without first destroying it (ripping it in half won't cut it), then you are ripe for the taking. A paper shredder is an absolute must in today's information age for both the office and home and should be used religiously. With a price tag of only $20 to $50 for a basic unit, it is the single most cost effective tool you can buy to fight identity theft.Your physical mailbox is another easy target for thieves; if possible, make it difficult to get mail that has been deposited in your mailbox with a lock or some other security device. If you suddenly notice that mail has stopped coming to you, it could be a sign that someone put in a change of address for you and is collecting all of your mail in order to carry out an identity theft.

When it comes to the Internet, there are a few simple rules that can help minimize your chances of identity theft:
  • Never reply to or send an e-mail message requesting personal information. E-mail is not secure and dozens if not hundreds of people along the way could read your message. No legitimate company would ever ask you to verify or send your personal information via e-mail.
  • Don't do business with a company if you can't contact them by telephone and mail, especially if they seem to have an offer that looks too good to be true.
  • Never participate with any company that uses spam (unsolicited commercial messages) as their way of marketing to you. Remember, if it's spam, it's probably a scam!
  • Use passwords that incorporate both numbers and letters and at least 8 characters. Thieves often use 'dictionary attacks' to break passwords that use real words.
  • Monitor your credit file - the Internet and e-mail have made it much easier, so you will know when something strange is going on. Equifax, one of the major credit reporting bureaus, has a service that will allow you access to your credit file and will e-mail you within 24 hours anytime it changes. You can try it free for 30 days and pay $70 per year if you like the service.

  • article courtesy of Lockergnome News, December 17 , 2003

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