A Primer on Identity Theft Prevention

Six months after moving to a new house, Blythe found out that the new tenants in her old apartment were using her personal info (copied from her unforwarded mail) to get free cable and other costly services for the apartment. Jeff discovered, after receiving congratulations from a family member on his ?new venture,? that someone had used his Social Security Number to get a business loan. Thieves broke into Regina's house while she was on vacation and left all of the electronics and other easily-fenced items, stealing her credit files and personal information instead. Why would thieves go for paper instead of material goods? Now that most products and services can be purchased using credit card numbers or account codes, thieves go straight for the numbers. Whether identity theft occurs when you lose your wallet or when you let information slip into cyberspace, it is one of the most insidious contemporary high-tech crimes. According to the 2003 Consumer Fraud and ID Theft Report, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 214,905 ID theft complaints in 2003, up from 161,600 in 2002.

What is Identity Theft? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information (i.e., your name, Social Security Number, credit card number or other identifying information) without your permission, usually to commit fraud or other crimes. Thieves often pick up your info from computer systems or Web sites that do not employ the tightest security measures. Victims of identity theft often have to spend lots of time ?many months or years? and money cleaning up their personal and financial records. In the meantime, they may be refused loans, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit.

Ways To Minimize Risk While there isn't a sure-fire way to prevent your personal information from being used illegally, there are a number of things you can do to guard against identity theft (see the sidebar below for some quick tips).

\r that could result. In addition, the FTC, in conjunction with banks, credit grantors and consumer advocates, has developed the ID Theft Affidavit to help victims of ID theft restore their good names. This form is available online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft/.

Ways to Minimize the Risk of Identity Theft

  • Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Your credit report contains information on where you work and live, the credit accounts that have been opened in your name, how you pay your bills and whether you've' been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy. Make sure it's accurate and includes only those activities you've' authorized.
  • Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother's maiden name. Use a password instead.
  • Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ a housekeeper or are having service work done in your home.
  • Ask about information security procedures in your workplace. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that records are kept in a secure location. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well.
  • Don't keep personal identification stored on computers unless it is encrypted.
  • Use a shredder! When discarding documents containing personal identification information, use a shredder or mark over the sensitive information so it can't be read by dumpster-divers.
  • Don't send personal identity information via email ? it can be easily read or intercepted.
  • When shopping online, make sure the site is secure. Before submitting your personal identity info to a web storefront, look for the padlock icon in the corner of the page that asks you to input your credit card number. You should also read the store's privacy statement ? can the store resell or share your information with others without your permission? If so they might not be worth your business.
  • Visit security.ucdavis.edu/id_theft.cfm.

Some info here taken from ?ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name? http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.htm