This guest post is from Amy Johnson, an active finance blogger who is fond of sharing interesting finance related articles to encourage people to manage and protect their finances.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, and perhaps even worldwide. It is a serious crime that can cause great damage, not only to one’s credit rating, but also to one’s personal reputation. Find out more about this offense and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.
You’ve probably come across these terms at least once in your life, especially while watching the news or browsing news reports online — “credit fraud,” “credit scam,” “identity thieves,” “credit monitoring,” “identity theft” and “credit scores.”
Most of the time, these terms are associated with one of the fastest growing crimes in America: identity theft.
What is identity theft?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Identity theft is a crime. Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
An identity thief may do any or all of the following in your name: obtain a credit card, apply for a telephone account or rent an apartment, among other things. Many people don’t find out about the theft until they review their credit reports or credit card statements and discover charges they didn’t make — or worse, until debt collectors contact them, seeking payment.
It goes without saying then that identity theft is a serious crime. Although some victims can recover quickly from identity theft scams, others are not so fortunate and have to spend a lot of money and time to resolve their problems and clear their name and credit records.
In some cases, victims are unable to obtain the jobs they apply for, or are denied housing, education and/or car loans. In other words, they accumulate bad credit because of identity theft, and — in the worst situations (though these are rare) — may even be arrested for crimes that they did not commit.
A closer look at identity theft and credit fraud
In a 2012 report released by Javelin Strategy & Research, it states that identity theft increased by 13 percent in 2011. Furthermore, over 11.6 million adults became a victim of identity fraud in the United States.) The report also found that consumers were at greater risk because of their behavior on social media and mobile networks.
Although there is no evidence of direct causation, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and Facebook users showed the highest incidence of fraud. Also, smartphone owners seemed to experience greater incidence of fraud, with a one-third higher incidence rate compared to the general public.
This just goes to show that every consumer should take extreme care when it comes to sharing personal information. However, as some identity theft victims may tell you, no matter how careful you are, you can still find your security compromised. In some cases, it may even be by someone you personally know and trust.
Take for example Frank Deyoub of Michigan, who claims that his own father stole his identity and ruined his credit history.
According to Deyoub, his father, Frank Scaramuzzino, stole his identity in 1987, and used his then untarnished financial record to purchase three cars and two houses.
Scaramuzzino, however, claims his son’s story is inaccurate, saying “there was never identity theft or fraud.” He did admit that some of his own financial information was included in his son’s credit report, but said it might have been due to a clerical error, as he and his son shared the same name at the time. (Frank Deyoub’s former legal surname was Scaramuzzino.)
Deyoub says because of the credit issues arising from his father’s alleged identity theft, he has been denied work and “embarrassed.” He also claims that people in his own family have looked at him differently.
Whether Deyoub’s accusation of his father is true or not, the case for protecting one’s self against identity theft and credit fraud is pretty firm.
Ways to prevent identity theft
If you don’t want to have credit issues like Deyoub, here are some things you can do:
- Review your monthly financial statements. Be on the lookout for any strange activity, like withdrawals or charges that you didn’t make. As much as possible, balance your checkbook regularly and review your credit card bill every month. You may also want to sign up for online accounts, which are easier and faster to review.
- Order and review your credit reports. Many people underestimate the importance of regular credit monitoring, especially when it comes to identity theft and credit fraud prevention. Make the most of the law requirement — that each of the three national credit reporting agencies must provide you with a free credit report every year.
Once you have these, ensure that all the information is correct. If there are any discrepancies, report them immediately. Although there is no 100% guarantee that you can prevent identity theft with regular credit monitoring, it is still a good practice to adopt.
- Protect your personal information. Shred any documents that may contain sensitive information such as your Social Security number including old bank statements and applications for new credit cards. Make sure your personal information is secure both online and offline.
These are just some of the steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft scams. If you search online, there are dozens of other useful articles that can tell you how to do so. The important thing to do then is to apply what you learn from them.
How about you? Do you have any useful tips to share? Please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section. Also, if you have found this post useful, do share it with your friends.