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Identity Theft – Be Very Careful

Don't be victim of identity theftDon’t Get Caught By an Identity Thief – You Can’t Afford It

It seems like the number and different types of scams increase in direct proportion to the percentage of downturn in the economy. It’s either that, or we’re raising a generation of individuals with no scruples or concern for others. Just about every day, we hear of individuals who have been the victim of identity theft and the absolute mess it has made of their lives.

There are so many ways that these criminals can get access to your personal information, it’s enough to make one shudder. Unfortunately, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in this country, however, there are a few steps that you can take that will deter them somewhat, or at least slow them down.

In 2011, there were in excess of 11,000,000 (read this eleven million) cases of identity theft in the United States with an estimated loss of $56,000,000,000 (fifty six billion dollars) When you hear what age group is hit the most and also loses the most, you may have a hard time accepting it. You, as I did, assume that senior citizens would be targeted the most, but that’s not the case…it’s the 18 to 24 year age group. They are online more and it takes them longer to realize that they have been victimized.

The primary cause and blame for this major problem today can be traced back to our brilliant leaders in the U.S. Congress, when they decided that our social security number would be used as our primary identifier. What a stroke of genius. This group must have been on one of their free junkets to some tropical paradise, and drunk when a vote was taken. They created a path for identity theft.

We all know how easy it is to get someone’s social security number. Just about anywhere you go to fill out an application, you’re asked for that number. I’ve made it a point to ask why they need it, and if I don’t get a proper answer. I won’t give it. Once one of these thieves has your social security number, it’s very easy to get new credit cards, and even apply for and receive loans. Many Americans have been victims of identity theft, and have lost their life savings, plus reputation and credit destroyed.

If stupidity was so rampant when the decision to use our social security number as a primary identifier was made, why is it still being used today? Trillions and trillions of dollars have been lost, millions of lives have been ruined, and this number is still being used!

There have been many organizations trying to put a “band aid on a major surgery” who think that monitoring an individual’s credit report is the answer. Another stupid idea. A credit report reflects information after the fact, and then it’s too late. Besides that, the wheels in a credit reporting bureau don’t run at high speed, they are usually in low gear and sometimes in neutral.

Some of the major labor unions are well aware of this problem and try to protect their members and families by keeping them abreast of the latest measures that can be used to prevent identity theft. But even though you take all measures possible, we see how computer hackers are breaking into various agencies, hospitals, and even credit card issuers, and stealing personal files that contain the social security numbers.

Even your home PC is vulnerable to hackers. They use all types of viruses, including keystroke logger Trojans, and can capture passwords to some of your very secure sites such as online banking. It’s critical that you use a firewall plus a good anti virus program, and also a malware program.  A common practice today is the hacker from one of the Middle East or Asian countries, who break into a bank or government agency, and download records that are sold to other criminals.

The credit reporting bureaus are trying to fix a part of the problem by separating your sensitive information from the normal credit rating info, but that’s not the answer either. This crime of identity theft is still alive and well, and prospering.

One of the favorite “phishing” scams that identity thieves use is called “pretexting”. They will generally call you or send an official looking email saying that they represent a bank or even some government agency. They usually begin by asking you to verify certain information that they were able to get, and if you fall for that, more personal questions are asked. These questions include social security number, bank accounts, etc. It blows my mind when I think of how many individuals fall for that scam.

There’s a number of ways to protect yourself from these types of inquiries. First of all, no government agency, and especially the Internal Revenue Service, will call you or send an email, asking you to verify anything.

In our home, I have caller ID on all telephones and if the number is blocked, or not a number or name that I recognize, the call is not answered. In your email program, use the delete button when in doubt. Remember, if you fall for any of these phishing ploys, you will probably pay a very high price, and it will not be a pleasant experience.

There are some services available that you can purchase to protect your identity, and it may be that this is a very small price for such high level of protection.

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About Gust Lenglet

An accountant and tax preparer by profession, Gust's true passion lies in his blog titled "How To Manage Your Money". Through this venue, he not only tries to teach individuals about budgeting and money management, but he writes the majority of the articles as well.

Comments

  1. What a great article and really good advice…

    I was a victim of identity theft a couple of years ago and to this day I still don’t know exactly what caused the damage. The credit card purchases were easy to resolve, but electronics purchased on credit the crook applied for are still a pain. The electronics store had one of those usury financial service companies that never let up trying to collect. I send each new collection agency a copy of the police report. If they call again, my lawyer sends a form letter demanding they cease and desist with any collections or be sued for harassment. That agency will stop, but the finance company just gets another one on my case. I finally sued the finance company, and they sent a letter of apology to my lawyer assuring the account was closed. Two days later another call demanding money from another agency.

    Avoid identity theft at all costs… and do as I do, get a VISA debit card to use for online purchases, and only keep enough on account to pay for whatever you are purchasing.

    • Thanks for your comment Mary. Your experience is a perfect example of what happens time and time again. Over aggressive bill collectors trying to earn a commission often times ignore the law and don’t care who they harass. Your recommendation is good advice as well.

  2. Definitely a great article, and one that has thought provoking content and facts! LOL on what you said about those who voted in that S.S. be used for all personal I.D. I am also really wary about giving it out and have been informed that most people who ask for it can not legally force you to give it. I have had a few close calls with suspicious incidents and am now extremely cautious. I find that a lot of suspect stuff arrives via email. I also have caller ID and do not answer if I do not know the number. I also run scans with my anti-virus/malware/spybot programs on a regular schedule to make sure my computer is clean.

  3. A wonderful article on a topic that should never get enough ink. People constantly forget there are people out there who are very good at robbing others without having to use a weapon, or even confront them face to face.

    I’m in the travel industry, and it was an alert in a travel industry memo that I want people to consider. Tourists in Russia were having their credit and debit cards scanned in hotels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. as tourists do. However, at some locations the information was then passed on to organized crime groups that then maxed out the credit cards or cleaned out bank accounts. If you want to have bad memories of your European vacation, have your life savings wiped out and your credit ruined before you return home. The advice I give everyone is to never, ever use a debit card unless it is one set up to pay for vacation expenses and in not linked to any of your other bank accounts or credit cards. Credit card fraud is not as easy to resolve as CC issuers would like you to believe, and will take months. Travelers should lower the limit on cards before they depart, or better, take only a credit card you will use while traveling that has a limit you can afford to pay if criminals get hold of it, or apply for a MC or VISA debit card and load it with what you can afford to lose. It is hard to think like a criminal when you are an honest person, so it is better to hope for the best but plan for the worst by insulating yourself from being fleeced.

  4. My husband and I have had a few issues with identity theft in the past, and the last time this happened, we contemplated getting rid of all credit cards and debit cards completely. The only thing is. is that we can’t really live this way without plastic anymore!
    We are in the process of paying off all credit cards, believe it or not, they are actually almost paid down! Those are all going back to the banks.
    We live in the middle of nowhere, so ordering online is a weekly thing here. Everything from toiletries to gifts and clothing and sometimes even food prodcts. Unfortunately, we can’t always use our checking accounts to pay online, they almost always use Paypal and credit or debit cards, so we have been stuck there. I never even thought about using the pre paid cards though! This is something I am definitely doing!
    Are there any recommended sites or pre paid cards for us to use, that won’t cost a fortune in fees? Almost every one I do see advertised requires activation fees and some sort of monthly access fees.
    Almost every time that our bank information was stolen, it was online. Even through Paypal, and through companies that didn’t really verify. They would actually have ip addresses and emails from ridiculous places, from across the world.
    Thank you for posting this and for replying to the comments!

  5. It’s gotten so bad you don’t know what to do even when someone does the right thing. My credit card must have fallen out of my pocket last night when I ran across the street to get something. One of the girls at the office in my building returned it to me this morning saying someone had left it in the drop box. But I wonder what do – if someone took the information down.

  6. Autumn Carter says:

    One thing that a lot of people don’t think about is their cell phones. People are hacking these as well because most people don’t think about protecting them. If you are going to use your cell phone for business purposes then you better be prepared. I don’t really have any new advice on this since I am still struggling with it myself after having my identity taken back when I was eighteen. I am almost twenty-nine and every couple of years someone uses my information and I have to go through all the processes again. Oh, and putting an alert on your credit is a huge pain since anytime that you try to get credit, you have to prove who you are which is good in one way but a pain in the other.

  7. JTomlinson says:

    I’ve been lucky not to get my identity stolen so far but I know two people who had theirs stolen after their car got broken into, and they’re still having major issues two years later. I’ve got all the anti-virus, anti-malware software and occasionally someone still hacks into e-mail or other online accounts and I have to go and change passwords to every single online thing, just to be sure. It’s a pain, but I’d rather be overcautious instead of getting my identity stolen.

  8. Kim Rawks! says:

    Thanks for the reminder. We all whip out our credit cards and disclose our SS# to just about anyone these days.

  9. Identity theft sounds like such a nightmare! This is one reason I refuse to put my SS# willy-nilly on everything, such as the pediatrician’s paperwork. It seems like a bad idea. Also, I have very complex passwords for my online accounts, and I never sign in at a Starbucks or other insecure location.

  10. I’m Canadian, so I couldn’t believe this sentence, “The primary cause and blame for this major problem today can be traced back to our brilliant leaders in the U.S. Congress, when they decided that our social security number would be used as our primary identifier.” Here it’s illegal to ask anyone for their social insurance number (equivalent to the US social security number). The only exception is an employer needing the SIN for their records to submit taxes.

    • I hate to be facetious but after reading about all this, I’m bad as I have bad credit.. don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my identity.. who’d want it! Are there other concerns to identity theft that are not monetary?

  11. Rodney L. says:

    Really helpful post, I used to think that if your identity was stolen you could just get a fresh start because of the theft but it seems that isn’t true. I have asked around and many people think that way.

  12. I used to think before that it is not possible for someone to steal one’s identity, but I hear stories of it. For me, it is one of the most scariest things that could happen to a person. People who are victims of this must be helped because it makes deep impact to not just the circumstances but the entire life and the future of a person.

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