What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a crime that occurs when someone pretends to be you and steals your information. It is most often committed for financial gain. This may include fraudulent use of credit cards and social benefits. If your identity is stolen, you could lose your financial resources and suffer emotional distress. You should know how to recognize this crime and take steps to protect yourself.
Identity fraud is a major problem that affects millions of Americans. Identity thieves use their identities to commit crimes, such as tax fraud, loan fraud, and social benefits fraud. They can use a child’s Social Security number to open a bank account and get a job, apply for government benefits, or buy a house. In some cases, they can even open a fake social media account.
Identity theft is an easy crime to commit. A thief can easily pick through trash bins and dumpsters and get your personal information. Another way thieves obtain your personal information is through mail identity theft. By stealing your mail, they can open new credit card accounts in your name.
In addition, an identity thief can obtain your personal information from a data breach. Companies that have suffered a breach are required to notify their customers. The affected customers will be notified by email. However, they are advised not to reply to emails from untrusted sources. Instead, they should review their statements and credit reports regularly.
Other forms of identity theft are online and mail-based. An imposter can create fake social media accounts and pass background checks using your information. He or she can also file a fraudulent tax return in your name.
Identity theft can be hard to detect, but it is important to do what you can to protect your personal information. Keep your passwords secure and use two-factor authentication when possible. Use antivirus software and keep your computer up-to-date. Additionally, use firewalls and shred all documents before disposing of them.
A recent report shows that identity fraud cost consumers $5 billion in 2003. Although the numbers are not exact, it is estimated that the fraud accounted for 4.6 percent of the US population. That means that more than nine million people were victims of this type of crime.
When you become a victim of identity fraud, it is vital to report it to the law enforcement agencies as soon as possible. Your case will help them bring the criminal to justice. Also, it is a good idea to file a fraud alert with the three main credit reporting companies.
Besides filing a fraud alert, you should also monitor your bills and your financial accounts. Any strange charges or withdrawals are a sign that your account has been compromised. Depending on the situation, you may be able to trace the identity thief.
In order to protect yourself, you should never carry your Social Security number or other identifying information in your wallet or purse. Avoid writing it on checks or on public Wi-Fi in a restaurant. Never open attachments, click on links, or respond to unsolicited email from unknown sources.