Identity Theft: How to Not Become A Victim By: Lauren Walker

Bio: Hi, my name is Lauren Walker. I am a Communications major with concentrations in Mass Communications and Public Relations. After completing my undergraduate, I plan on going to graduate school for my MBA. With my degrees, I hope to become a Broadcast Journalist or work in public relations in the entertainment and media industries. Currently, I am in intern for a public relations firm producing events as well as working part-time for Abercrombie and Fitch. When I’m not working or going to school, I love being surrounded by close family and friends and enjoying all that life has to offer.

Identity Theft is something that no one wants to be the victim of, yet 11.1 million adults were victims of identity theft in 2009. With so many users online, the ease and accessibility of information is becoming very convenient for hackers.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. (FTC)

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as “9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft. 
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make or until a debt collector contacts you.”

According to Henry Bagdasarian, an identity theft consultant, “Young identity theft victims between the ages of 20 and 29 were reported by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to account for most of the identity theft complaints in 2009 in which more than 11 million people were reported as being identity theft victims.”

Young people are more vulnerable because they spend a lot more time online, are less cautious, and share more information often. As suggested by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, “many college students share housing such as apartments and dorm rooms, which might be a cause for excessive sharing of personal information.” Potential young identity theft victims may leave their personal belongings unsecured for their roommates and their visitors to see or they might share personal information on the phone and online which might be overheard or disclosed. (Bagdasarian)

The Federal Trade Commission states that “Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold. 
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including: Dumpster Diving, they rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it. Skimming, they steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card. Phishing, they pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information. Changing Your Address, they divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form. Old-Fashioned Stealing, they steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They will also steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.”

Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. (FTC)

If your identity is in fact stolen, you should file a police report, notify creditors, check your credit reports and dispute any unauthorized transactions. In order to ensure your safety and protection, you should take precautions that will ensure your identity is protected. Monitoring your bank accounts and statements regularly can help decrease any damage caused by thieves. Ordering your credit reports often can allow you to monitor any suspicious activity on your credit card.

It’s difficult to predict how long the effects of identity theft may linger. That’s because it depends on many factors including the type of theft, whether the thief sold or passed your information on to other thieves, whether the thief is caught, and problems related to correcting your credit report. Victims of identity theft should monitor financial records for several months after they discover the crime. Victims should review their credit reports once every three months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. Stay alert for other signs of identity theft. Don’t delay in correcting your records and contacting all companies that opened fraudulent accounts. The longer the inaccurate information goes uncorrected, the longer it will take to resolve the problem. (FTC)

“Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms identity theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen. Armed with the knowledge of how to protect yourself and take action, you can make identity thieves’ jobs much more difficult. You can also help fight identity theft by educating your friends, family, and members of your community.” (FTC)

To learn more about Identity Theft, check out these links:

http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html

http://www.idtheftcenter.org

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