As I discussed in my previous blog post, identity theft is one the fastest growing crimes in modern society, and can represent substantial ongoing challenges for individuals who have fallen prey to it. Many cases of identity theft can start with minor, easily overlooked changes to bank accounts and credit charges. However, if these things are left unaddressed, they can rapidly escalate and ruin lives.
While the threat is widespread, there are steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability to identity theft.
Credit Protection and Personal Protection
A common misconception that many people have is that account-backed credit protection can be enough to counteract the tactics of identity thieves. However, the truth is that while loan providers and the anti-fraud practices of credit card companies can help customers in credit protection for certain accounts and even regarding specific charges, this protection does not stop or uncover every activity that may occur as a result of an identity theft.
One of the tricks used by identity thieves involves making sporadic and small charges on an existing or new account that may be established in your name. This can make it very easy to overlook initial suspicious activity, so that by the time more extensive or overt fraudulent activity is detected, the situation may have escalated, and the victim’s personal information, credit score, and finances may already be significantly damaged.
Other schemes used by identity thieves and hackers include the following:
- Opening up new credit card accounts in their victims’ names, piggy-backing on the victims’ otherwise established credit, and using the new cards, while the victim is left with the bills.
- Pilfering individuals tax information, filing fraudulent tax returns and claiming false refunds in their victims’ names.
- “Free-riding” on victims’ health insurance, by stealing their insurance identification information, and receiving treatment under someone else’s coverage – often causing serious complications when the victims try to get treatment for their own health issues.
For this reason, it is always vitally important for individuals to:
- Safely dispose of any documents with personal information. While identity theft is a crime, it is also important to remember that any trash left on the curb is considered public domain, which means that anyone can claim it. The use of a personal shredder and the apartment building incinerator are wise choices for protection.
- Monitor all account activity, no matter how small. Catching the smaller unauthorized charges can lead to the prevention of your alternate identity being fully established. Any suspicious activity should be reported to the bank, as this can lead to a formal investigation.
- File a police report. Some lenders will ask that clients do this in order to verify the authenticity of the theft claims. However, victims are encouraged to file with the local precinct regardless, as this can also help to substantiate the theft claims should criminal charges against the perpetrator become a necessity.
- Hire a Private Investigator. The use of a private investigator can often help to uncover how wide spread identity theft may range. This can include exposing any false accounts that have been taken out in your name, where your personal information has been distributed, and can also aid in the recovery of assets that are not protected through credit lenders.