Identity theft is a crime that has ruined thousands of lives. A law was formed in 2003 for identity theft prevention and it empowered the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to track the number of incidents and monetary losses caused by identity theft.
Several FTC studies have revealed that incidents of pure identity theft (taking over someone’s identity) have steadily been declining but cases of fraud complaints (partial identity theft) are on the rise. This means that the criminal element behind ID theft has switched from assuming someone’s identity entirely to merely using enough of it to perpetrate fraudulent thefts through consumer credit and similar frauds.
It’s estimated that identity theft is the fastest-growing white collar crime in the US and many Americans fall victim to it every year. So, is there something you can do to prevent identity theft?
Yes, there are lots of ways to prevent identity theft. We’ll look at the “big 3” that are also the most recommended minimum safeguards against falling victim of this crime. Most ID theft experts list these three ways as the bare minimum every American should take care of to avoid identity theft.
How To Prevent Identity Theft?
#1: Watch Those Websites
The first of our top 3 ways to prevent identity theft is learning what you should look for in a website to make sure it’s safe. Most victims of credit card fraud and identity theft are initially targeted through Internet scams and websites. While shopping online is relatively safe, there are certain things you should always look for before you give any information to an online shopping website.
First, know what site you’re dealing with. If the site is a large, reputable company like Amazon or Sears, then you’re on the way to verifying it’s okay. Make sure that the URL (site address) begins with what you know is the company’s real address. So if you’re shopping on Amazon.com, make sure the website address is something like “http://www.amazon.com” or “https://www.amazon.com” so you know that you’re really on Amazon’s website and not a fake.
Next, look for the security seal on the site before you enter any information. When the site asks you for a credit card, checking account, or other information for payment (or personal information about you such as your social security number or driver’s license info), make sure the data transmission is secure.
Do this in two ways: look for the “https” at the beginning of the site URL in your address bar-that “s” denotes “secure.” Then look at the corner of your browser-usually to the bottom right-for a padlock that is closed, or “locked.” This is the universal symbol for a secure connection.
Finally, if you have any doubts whatsoever about the website or its security, DO NOT give it any information. When in doubt, don’t buy. Simple as that.
#2: Keep It Off the Phone
If you don’t know who you’re talking to, don’t give out any useful information about your identity. That seems pretty simple, but it’s amazing to see people still giving out their mother’s maiden name (a common “security question” for credit cards) or even Social Security number without a second thought.
This is essentially how “Phishing” works. A criminal who has basic information (like a credit card number) will call to get enough information to take over the card and even take out new credit in the victim’s name. The criminal will make phone calls pretending to be someone from the card company, one of the utilities, a bank, etc. and ask for information they need as if it were part of a customer service call. Many fall for this.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a credit card, bank, or other company and they need identifying information from you, tell them you’ll call them back through their recognized corporate number (which you will get yourself from a bill or the phone book). Tell them you don’t give out personal information on the phone if you aren’t sure who you’re talking to. They should understand and wait for you to call them back.
This simple precaution can almost totally prevent your private information from being stolen. A criminal with a stolen credit card and your personal information can wreak havoc on your entire credit profile and empty your bank accounts faster than you might think.
#3: Keep Them Safe
When you’re at the store, in the mall, or when you park your car, keep your credit cards, identification, and other valuables safe. If you carry a wallet, keep it near your body where you can feel it rather than in a purse. This makes it harder to steal. When you use a card, cover your hand while you enter the PIN number or make sure to give ID to the clerk (whether they ask or not) to remind them that the card could be stolen.
When you park your car to go into a store or your home, DO NOT leave your personal identification and credit cards behind! Take them with you no matter what. Even a minute’s trip into the Post Office can result in your wallet or purse being stolen. It takes just a couple of seconds to open the car door or break the window and take your things.
Last but not the least, if you have children, protect their Social Security numbers. Just because they’re children doesn’t mean their SS numbers can’t be used to take out credit!
Hopefully these three ways to prevent identity theft are enough to keep you from falling victim. Our lives are complicated enough without having to deal with ruined credit and months of work to clear your name and reputation. A few simple precautions could make all the difference.