Identity theft is the unlawful use of another person's identification. Identity theft may take many forms. Common methods of identity theft include credit card or other financial institution fraud, phone or utility service theft, and the taking of government documents or benefits. However, thieves are finding new ways of using the identity of their victims every day. The tragic events of September 11 have helped financial institutions and federal regulators learn more about the ways in which terrorists and terrorist organizations finance their activities. Some of their methods included opening accounts and moving funds using false identities or stolen information about real account holders. One way in which you may help stop these activities and make our financial institutions safer is to protect your account information from thieves and unauthorized users.
Surprising to most people is that identity theft is actually a very easy crime to commit. In fact, over 1,400 people are victimized each day. That being the case, it is important for you to know how these thieves operate so you can protect your personal information.
At the heart of the crime is the thief obtaining information that most people would assume only the true owner of the information would know. Common examples are social security numbers, driver's license numbers, financial institution account numbers, mother's maiden names, and passports.
Thieves obtain this information in numerous ways. Some thieves will steal wallets, purses, and even mail. Others will listen and/or watch a person conduct personal business, such as talking on the telephone or getting cash from an automated teller machine. Thieves will also deceive or trick people into disclosing personal information through phone scams, via the mail, or on the Internet.
Very aggressive thieves will even obtain personal information by using a process referred to as "pretext calling." Pretext calling occurs when an individual contacts an entity in possession of a customer's personal information and cons the entity into releasing the information by acting as the customer or someone authorized to have the customer's information.
Once a thief has possession of the information, the thief will apply for credit cards, loans, phone services, or just about any other service where economic gain can be realized without actual payment. When applying for credit cards, loans, or other services, thieves will often intentionally use incorrect addresses or complete change of address forms on existing accounts so that the victim will not be immediately aware of the crime.
Identity theft can cause its victims numerous problems. Most significantly, it can destroy the financial history you have worked so hard to obtain. Repairing your credit history can require significant time and money. You may not be able to stop a thief until thousands of dollars of debt have been attributed to you.
The following are just some of the ways you can reduce the risk of identity theft:
You may also wish to do the following
What Should I Do If My Identity Has Been Stolen?
In the event that you suspect your identity has been stolen or you are, in fact, certain that it has been stolen, follow these simple steps:
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