idtheft.jpg“We live in a time where if you make it easy for someone to steal from you, someone will.” –Frank Abagnale

In a recent AARP study, more than 12% of the respondents claimed that at some time during the previous year they had been victims of identity theft. Not only is identity theft extremely common, it’s relatively safe. According to PrivacyRights.org, only about 1 out of every 700 identity thieves will ever get caught, meaning that the number of ID thieves will probably continue to rise.
Some forms of high tech identity theft cannot be reasonably prevented unless you choose to spend cash everywhere you go. These cases generally involve a retailer or other establishment that fails to adequately protect your information. But a large part of the risk is controllable, so there are still many things you can do to protect yourself from becoming a statistic.
ü Watch out for low-tech identity theft. In a surprising number of cases, identity theft begins with intercepting mail from an unsecured mailbox. The information contained in paper bank statements, old credit card bills and even gas station receipts is subject to collection like pieces of a puzzle, sometimes by an unknown house guest. These items should be shredded and discarded unless they are absolutely needed. If you must keep them, secure them well. As for mail, the best mail security is still a post office box, where the mail never leaves the building until you get it yourself.
ü Protect your online information. It’s been said a thousand times, and it still bears repeating: Build a strong password and change it often. Never use names of anyone in your family, birthdays or the names of pets in your passwords. Clear all of the passwords from your web browser and enter them by hand, and never use one password at multiple sites. Using a credit card gives you more fraud protection under federal law than debit cards or online payment services.
ü Don’t fall for scams. Email messages that ask for information should always be looked at with a suspicious eye. Instead of using the “links” in these emails, navigate to the company’s web site using a fresh browser window and check out any suspicious claims for yourself.
ü Secure your devices. Good computer antivirus and malware programs such as McAfee can protect all your mobile devices, laptops and tablets under one subscription. Update your operating system often, run frequent virus scans and never give out sensitive information over an unsecured connection.
ü Consider an Identity Theft Protection Service. There are professional services such as LifeLock that can offer very good protection from identity theft, but they’ll set you back at least $150 a year. Check with your bank first, many of them are now offering similar services for a lot less money.

If you discover that you’re a victim of identity theft, there are 3 steps you should take immediately:
1. Contact one of the credit reporting agencies--Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—and request that a Fraud Alert be placed on your account. You only need to contact one, and they will contact the others for you. The free service requires that any business seeking to open a new account in your name must verify your identity, making it harder for a would-be thief to open an account. This alert lasts 90 days and also entitles you to 1 free credit report from each of the 3 agencies.
2. Obtain a copy of your credit report. You can take advantage of the free report that you are entitled to as a result of the fraud alert mentioned above. Make sure to inform them that you would only like the last 4 digits of your social security number on the report for additional security. Use the credit report to find out which accounts have been compromised, then contact the company in question to dispute any unauthorized activity. Keep a record of all communications by using certified mail and keeping the receipts.
3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint and create an Identity Theft Report. Once you have filed the complaint, you can print and sign an affidavit of the incident. When you take the affidavit to the police to report the crime, they will generate an Identity Theft Report. The report will help you establish that you were a victim, and help you to have fraudulent information removed from your record. The report can also be used to stop collections on those items and to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.