Identify Theft: Security for a Digital World

By: Herman Lee
If you’ve opened up the newspaper lately, turned on the radio, or spoke with a colleague, chances are you will have heard of the new rampant levels of identify theft that is taking place and growing to new heights each year. You or someone you know may have already been a victim of this serious crime.

Why should you worry about identify theft? For one thing, a seriously damaged credit report can ruin your chances of getting a new job, a bank loan, insurance, and even rental housing. In the worst case scenario you could even be arrested if someone utilized your identity to commit a crime.

Here are some tips to help reduce the chances of having your identity compromised:

1. When making a credit card purchase, blank out the 12 numbers of your credit card number on the printed receipt (assuming that all 16 are printed as some places still do). This holds especially true at restaurants. Try not leaving the signed receipt left on the table with all numbers visible. You are permitted by law to mark out 12 of them so that passerby’s can’t get a glance and memorize your credit card number.

2. Avoid relaying your social security number to anyone unless it’s absolutely required. Use common sense in most cases, for example to open a bank account you will probably need to give out your social security number, but if a store clerk simply wants to use your social security number to use as an ID, then you should reserve from doing so in most cases.

3. Have access to a personal shredder. For any documents you plan on throwing away it helps to shred anything that contains personally identifiable information including social security, credit card numbers, phone numbers, and birth date.

4. In the worst case scenario, i.e. if your identify has been stolen, here are some steps to assuage the situation: Contact your credit card companies and have them close your accounts as well as issue new cards for you. Put a fraud alert via one the three major credit bureaus. One will notify the other two automatically. File a police report to use as evidence when creditors ask for it. File a notice or complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, which manages a database of identity theft related cases which are used by law enforcement personnel for their investigations.

Try to use your intuition in most cases. The most reported incidents of identity theft generally are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated.

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