Identity Theft. Can it happen to you?

Identity Theft

Identity Theft. Can it happen to you? It happened to me. What are you doing to protect yourself?

Can you imagine someone acquiring a mortgage or purchasing a car in your name without your consent? Can you imagine applying for a credit card or some other form of credit and the financial institution or bank rejects your application because of your tarnished credit history and low credit score? Most people do not realize they have become a victim of identity theft until they notice unauthorized charges on their account statements or when they have been denied for a loan or some form of credit. Identity theft is becoming more prevalent in our society. According to the Federal Trade Commission, of more than 1.8 million consumer complaints filed in 2011, 15% or 279,156 were identity theft complaints. My home State of Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft complaints, followed by Georgia and California.

What is identity theft? Identity theft is when a person steals and uses someone’s personal information for fraudulent purposes. If someone steals and uses your social security number, account number, date of birth or other personal information and impersonates you to obtain credit or to do any other activity, you have become a victim of identity theft. Identity theft not only affects adults. Some criminals are so brazen that they are stealing the identities of children and the elderly.

How can someone steal your identity?

  1. Carelessness. Some people are so careless in giving out their personal information. It can occur over the phone, in person, by email and on websites. I have witnessed people, indiscreetly, sharing personal information such as their social security numbers while transacting business publicly. I have found receipts with people’s name and credit or debit card number on them. I have seen people, who carry their credit or debit cards on their key chains, place their keys on a chair or table for the world to see. Unfortunately, everyone is not honest and does not have our best interests at heart.
  2. Wallet, medical records and personnel files. Thieves can gather your personal information by stealing your wallet or other personal items and medical records. Unfortunately, medical records are not always within a person’s control. But realize some thieves can get access to your personal information and steal your identity.
  3. Garbage. Some thieves rummage through garbage looking for banking and account statements or other important papers that may contain your personal information.
  4. Phishing - This is becoming more prevalent via the internet (email accounts and social media sites). Phishing is when a person pretends to be your financial institution, bank, or credit card company. It is done by sending out spam emails or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information such as your account numbers or social security numbers.

Identity theft can:

  1. Lower your credit score and ruin your credit history
  2. Prevent you from obtaining future credit
  3. Prevent you from obtaining a job
  4. Drain you financially

How can you prevent or minimize the chances of someone stealing your identity?

  1. Do not be willing to give out your personal information on the phone, through the mail, over the internet or in person unless it is necessary. Make sure you know the person or persons you are dealing with.
  2. Stop being carefree with your financial information. Shred or destroy receipts before discarding them. Shred old credit and debit cards. Do not place your credit or debit card on your key ring. Do not carry your social security in your wallet.
  3. Shred all financial documents (bank statements, etc) and paperwork that contains personal information before you discard them.
  4. Check all of your account statements monthly for unauthorized charges.
  5. Monitor your credit by obtaining a copy of your credit reports at least 2 times a year. Compliments of the federal government, consumers can obtain a free copy of each credit report (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion). Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Or call 1-877-322-8228.

Lionel Shipman is the owner of Shipman Consulting, a personal and business finance-consulting firm specializing in helping individuals and businesses improve their financial outlooks. The primary focus of the firm is facilitating seminars and classes to educate, motivate, and empower people to take charge of their financial lives. The firm also offers one-on-one consulting services. Please visit the firm's website for information at www.ShipmanConsulting.com. Email address: Contact@ShipmanConsulting.com
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