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Identity Theft

Identity theft is not a new crime. For centuries, people have misrepresented themselves for a variety of reasons, usually to skirt the law or gain financially. There are all kinds of identity theft, including social security, credit card, and even medical services. We most often hear about financial identity theft, and since that involves your personal bank accounts, it is the most dangerous.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 16.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2012, and the number continues to rise. It’s important to be aware of the risks and protect yourself before it happens. That begins with knowing how to prevent it from happening at all.

Not all identity theft starts with computers. Thieves can find information from discarded mail, prescription bottles, stolen wallets, and even eavesdropping when using your credit card or writing a check. According to the FBI, identity thieves start with names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth. They also use Medicare numbers, bank account or credit card numbers, birth certificates, death certificates, passport numbers, telephone numbers, passwords that use maiden or middle names, and even fingerprints. The most common ways thieves get this information are through burglaries that involve the loss of checkbooks, driver’s license, registration, credit cards, etc., email and phishing scams, and computer hacking.

Even though just about anyone can become the victim of identity theft, it doesn’t have to happen. There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from these crafty thieves. According to the Department of Commerce, there are four main things you can do to protect yourself.

1.Keep and dispose of your personal information, especially your social security number, securely. Keep your financial documents and records in a safe place that can be locked and only carry identification and other cards you will need for that specific errand. Shred documents that are no longer needed, destroy or remove labels from empty prescription bottles,  and take outgoing mail to a US Postal Service mail box or post office.

2.Take all the appropriate security measures for your cellular telephone, computer and other electronic devices. Make sure you are using a secure wireless network before you send any information. Use passwords, locks and antivirus software. And make sure you permanently delete all information from computers, phones and other mobile devices before you dispose of them.

3.Ask questions before you share your personal information. Ask why they need the information, how the information is to be used, what their security measures are for protecting the information, and what would happen if you choose not to share the information.

4.Never give information to someone you don’t know. This includes phishing emails that should never be opened and the links or downloads contained in these emails. By opening an email from a stranger, you could be exposing your computer or device to a virus or spyware that can give thieves access to your information. Never give out your personal information to someone via the telephone, internet or mail unless you initiated the contact.

If you think you are a victim of identity theft, take action immediately.

1.Call the fraud departments of the company or companies where the fraud occurred and tell them you are a victim of identity theft.

2.Put a fraud alert on your credit and get a credit report from one of the three credit bureaus. When one credit bureaus gets a fraud alert, they will automatically contact the others. This is free and allows you to review your credit history for new accounts or purchases that you did not initiate.

3.Report any fraudulent transactions to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has an online complaint form or you can call them at 1-877-438-4338. They will issue you an Identity Theft Affidavit which you should print and keep.

4.File a report with the police department in your community. Take a copy of your Identity Theft Affidavit from the FTC, a photo ID, proof of your address, and any proof you have of the theft. 


These steps will start your recovery from the theft, and begin to restore your credit. Unfortunately, the investigation and follow-up on identity theft can take months or even years. But your quick action can limit the financial loss and damage.

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