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.