Are you the victim of identity theft? According to Joanna Crane of the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Program, 80% of the victims who call the FTC say they have no idea how it happened.
Furthermore, an FTC survey reported that 4.6% of those polled reported that they had been a victim of identity theft within the past year. Additionally, according to a recent General Accounting Office report, it is estimated that as many as 750,000 Americans are victims of identity theft every year.
Is this an invisible enemy and are American's personal and financial information that easily accessible to identity thieves? What can the average American do to protect themselves from these personal attacks on their privacy? Although there are no guarantees, here are five simple steps to help prevent identity theft:
1) Shred private credit card statements, tax documents, bank statements, pre-approved credit card offers or any other documentation with private financial information.
2) If you are inundated with pre-approved credit card offers you can call toll free 1-888-567-8688 to opt out and request to have your name removed from the mailing list. In addition, you can call the national do not call registry at 1-888-382-1222 to stop unsolicited telemarketing calls where you could divulge personal information.
3) Monitor your credit report at least once a year. You are entitled to a free credit report and can get one by calling 1-877-322-8228. Look for suspicious activity. It is also wise to subscribe to a credit protection service which will inform you of changes in your credit report.
4) Check your mailbox daily and do not allow mail to sit overnight in your mailbox. Mail theft is an easy way for thieves to secure personal information. It is best to mail outgoing bills and checks at the post office or other secure locations. If you believe your mail has been stolen you must contact the nearest postal inspector. You can look in the white pages under Government Services or call 1-800-ASK-USPS.
5) Be defensive and more guarded with your information. Do not divulge your personal information freely. Never "validate" your personal or financial information when contacted through an email, even if it is a company you do business with; they have this information on file. It may look legitimate and realistic, but these attempts are getting more sophisticated and these types of scams are what is known as "phishing".
We have explored five simple steps that the average person can do to help themselves prevent identity theft. In this age of advanced communications and technology and with the thieves getting more deceptive than ever, it is imperative to continue to educate yourself. Be cautious and understand that this information can be abused and it is up to you to safeguard yourself and your famliy from this growing trend.