Technology has become indispensable in the modern world. Computers, tablets, and mobile phones have helped many people to soar to new heights in life and in business.
But the same technology also created immense invisible dangers. Criminals nowadays have greater capabilities than ever before to gain access to your personal information.
Identity thieves are experts at using fraud or deception to obtain other people’s personal and or business information so they can use this information for material gain.
In years past, a man would worry about a pickpocket who stole his wallet, which held his IDs and credit cards. And a woman would live in fear of a thug who would rip the purse from her shoulder and run away with her house keys, car keys, driver’s license, checkbook and other valuables.
But today, cybercriminals on the other side of the planet can steal your personal and business information by “accessing” your computer, tablet or smartphone. And you might never know it happened — until it’s too late.
It is virtually impossible to have total security from these types of thieves. But today I want to teach you about the basics of how to protect yourself from identity theft. After you read this, you should be able to take better precautions to safeguard and to protect your information in this evolving era of cybercrimes.
You’re in for a big financial shock if someone steals your identity
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that in 2014 alone identity thieves victimized just under 18 million Americans over age 15. Of these victims, two-thirds reported a direct financial loss.
How does your identity get stolen?
For a start, identity thieves don’t need to use a computer. Here are several low-tech ways they can steal your vital information:
- Rummaging through your trash or recycling to find bank statements, credit card statements, medical bills, and other personal documents.
- Stealing your mail from your box at home or snatching your parcels from your front door.
- Fake-out phone calls, where they con you into giving out your Social Security number or other info by pretending to be IRS agents, bill collectors or representatives from your utility or phone company.
- Employees can steal data at places where you do business.
- And of course, stealing your wallet or purse.
More sophisticated cyber-thieves can hack your computer over the Internet. These crooks can be lone wolves or international gangs of hackers. They can ferret into your computer with bogus emails that contain what’s called “malware,” which can give them access, and sometimes complete control, of your computer.
These emails may offer you a prize or a free gift, something that sounds so fantastic that you can’t resist opening the email and giving away a little personal information.
Cyber-thieves can also hijack your smartphone with emails. But that’s not all you have to worry about. They can also sneak malware in apps, both free apps and apps that you buy from usually reputable sources.
Once the criminals have your personal information, they can either use it themselves or sell it to more sophisticated crooks who better understand how to extract and use the data.
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What do the criminals do with your information?
There are many ways that criminals can use your personal or business information.
Bank Fraud: Crooks can open a fraudulent bank account in your name and link it to your other accounts. They can then write checks, execute electronic wire transfers of your money and drain your accounts dry.
Credit Card Fraud: This is without doubt one of the most common ways criminals will use your information. They secure credit cards in your name or even open up lines of credit. Usually, they change the billing address so you may not catch on for months or years.
Mobile Phone Fraud: The thieves will open a new mobile or cellular phone account in your name, change the address and sign up for an extended contract. Or they’ll link the new account to your existing cellular account.
Employment Fraud: If someone has your Social Security number, driver’s license info and basic personal information, they can apply for a job in your name. They could also then file tax returns in the same manner.
How do you find out if your identity was stolen?
Most people do not know they have been victimized by identity thieves until long after they’ve been hit.
Unless you are registered with some type of firm that offers monitoring services on your accounts, it is more than likely that you won’t find out until you access your credit report, or you get a call from a collection agency on an unpaid debt that you know nothing about, or you apply for a loan or a mortgage and discover that your credit has been trashed.
Another way you may find out is when your local bank manager calls to tell you that your account is overdrawn.
Overall, it would be best if you remain vigilant and monitor all your accounts and credit cards on a monthly basis. To do this, first sign up for credit reporting services. Then, manually check your statements or accounts every week or every month. You may not be able to prevent someone from stealing your information but you can certainly mitigate the damages by self-monitoring regularly.
What should you do if you find out you’re a victim of identity theft?
If you find out that your identity has been stolen, it won’t be easy to recover your good name and repair your credit history — especially if the crime has gone on for a long time.
However, here are some first steps you can take to start restoring your name, credit and sanity:
- Contact one of the major credit reporting agencies and speak to someone in the fraud department. They will likely ask you to file an initial report and place an alert on your credit report. By contacting one, you will have in essence notified all of them as it is their obligation to report to the others.
- File a police report with your local police department where the theft occurred. Get a copy of the report and make copies so you can send it to other creditors.
- Start monitoring all your accounts on a monthly basis and look for any unusual activity. If for any reason you are unable or do not want to do this, there are many services out there that can do this for you.
- Lastly, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, which maintains a database of these crimes that law enforcement agencies can access for investigations.
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!