Financial identity theft is a serious and growing problem in this country. Unlike other theft crimes in which you know that money or valuables have been taken from you, it could be days or weeks before you become aware that you have been the victim of a crime.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice reports that more than 17 million Americans are victimized by identity theft each year. Bank accounts and credit cards accounts are the most popular targets for offenders who commit financial identity theft.
How does financial identity theft occur?
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information, such as Social Security number, parents' names, birth date, bank account numbers and credit card account numbers, without your permission or consent. The thieves then use the information to make charges against your credit cards, withdraw money from your bank accounts or obtain loans in your name.
Thieves obtain your personal information by stealing wallets, removing bank and credit card statements from your mailbox or by going through your trash for papers you threw out containing personal data. Computer hackers can get information from the computer systems at your place of work or stores at which you have used your credit cards. Some thieves have even gone so far as to submit a change of address form at the post office to have a victim's mail diverted to the thieves.
Five steps to take to protect you from financial identity theft:
People engaging in financial identity theft can be very resourceful in the methods they use. There are, however, five steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim:
- Do not give out your Social Security number, bank account number or credit card information over the telephone or on the <a href="http://thelawdictionary.org/article/criminal-penalties-for-email-hacking/">Internet</a> unless you know to whom you are giving the information.
- Create passwords and PINs that are difficult for thieves to guess or readily associate with you. Your date of birth, your mother's maiden name and all or part of your Social Security number are too closely associated with you and too easily accessible to someone intent on committing financial identity theft to use for PINS and passwords. Choose something unique.
- Know when your bank statements and credit card statements arrive in the mail. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately if you do not receive a statement by the date it normally arrives.
- Instead of simply looking at the balance due on your credit card statement each month, carefully review the transactions to detect any unusual activity that might indicate financial identity theft. You should also do this with your bank account statements to detect any withdrawals or checks that you do not authorize.
- Purchase a shredder and use it. Instead of tossing bank statements, credit card statements and other documents containing personal information about you in the trash, use a shredder.
Do not become a victim of financial identity theft
If you take precautions in handling your personal information, you could make it difficult for someone to target you for financial identity theft.