Identity theft is a scary notion for anyone and if you have been one of the victims of this crime, then you know just how difficult it can be to correct the damage. According to AARP the Federal Trade Commission received 490,000 complaints of identity theft which is a 47% increase over the previous year. According to FTC Chairman, Edith Ramierez, “For victims of this crime, it can take several months or even years to overcome the financial as well as emotional toll.” Ironically, there are several different types of identiy theft. USA.gov breaks them into the following categories:
- Child ID theft – Children’s IDs are vulnerable because the theft may go undetected for many years. By the time they are adults, the damage has already been done to their identities.
- Tax ID theft – A thief uses your social security number to falsely file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service or state government.
- Medical ID theft – This form of ID theft happens when someone steals your personal information, such as your Medicare ID or health insurance member number to get medical services, or to issue fraudulent billing to your health insurance provider.
- Senior ID theft – ID theft schemes that target seniors. Seniors are vulnerable to ID theft because they are in more frequent contact with medical professionals who get their medical insurance information, or caregivers and staff at long-term care facilities that have access to personal information or financial documents.
- Social ID theft – A thief uses your name, photos, and other personal information to create a phony account on a social media platform.
The U.S government recommends that the best way to protect against one of these is to do the following;
- Secure your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your social security number (SSN) when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs.
- Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Review your receipts. Ask for carbon copies and incorrect charge slips as well. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases
- Order your credit report once a year and review to be certain that it doesn’t include accounts that you have not opened. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.
In the unfortunate event this should happen to you, the government has created and recently updated their website called identityteft.gov. AARP promotes the use of this site and says it allows victims to describe what sort of data breach has occurred then helps to create a personal action plan. The tool will then use that information to fill in forms and draft letters to submit when reporting the theft to the IRS, law enforcement, credit card companies, debt collectors and credit reporting companies.
Please take these few simple steps today to ensure your identity safety and your peace of mind. This is good advice for anyone of any age.