How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
When you usually think about identity theft, you may picture a seedy criminal, a stranger who has stolen your information. However, this image is usually incorrect. Identity thieves are often much more familiar and can be your family or friends. Being on guard and careful with your information is essential to preventing identity theft.
Personal Identity Theft by Friends and Family
One type of offender is the personal identity thief. This is somebody who knows their victims personally. They are almost always trusted friends or even a family member. These identity thieves often commit medical identity theft, social security identity theft, financial identity theft criminal identity theft, or utility fraud. A personal identity thief can have dozens or even hundreds of victims, including close friends they have had for years.
In one case in Indiana, a woman in a church choir stole the identities of members of the congregation and even the pastor. No one had any idea or would have ever suspected her to be capable of such an act. Sometimes personal identity thieves get greedy or careless and steal the identity of multiple friends or family members; this can create a pattern police can use to track them down.
However, if a personal identity thief is a family member, the chances of them getting arrested are very low, because families do not want to press charges. This makes statistics inaccurate since many are not even reported.
Recognizing Identity Theft
If a friend or family member has stolen your identity you may see problems with turning on utilities or transferring them. You may notice your Social Security statement is wrong, or there may be errors in doctors’ files. And of course credit card bills, calls from bill collectors, or a summons to court are big signs of identity theft.
Young people often learn they are a victim of identity theft when they apply for a driver’s license or learners permit, apply for their first loan, or try to get a job. Statistics show that someone who commits identity theft will usually give a stolen identity to law enforcement if they are questioned or arrested. This is criminal identity theft. The innocent victim usually sees the inside of a jail cell and spends a lot of money on legal help.
Protect Yourself from Personal Identity Theft
Personal identity thieves are very opportunistic. Imagine babysitters snooping through a desk drawer or a maid rummaging in the basement. Beauticians, waiters, waitresses, your local gas station clerk, or anyone else you hand your credit card to are key people to watch as well. Here are some tips for avoiding identity theft:
- Hide important documents, keep them in a personal safe, or better yet in a safe deposit box at the bank.
- Protect social security numbers, even from family. Schools often ask for a child’s social security number, but they don’t need it. You will, however, be required by law to share your social security number with your insurance company as well as state and federal governments.
- Be a little paranoid. While dad is taking the babysitter home, mom might check to see if the desk has been rummaged after she looks in on the kids.
- Check your own information if a friend tells you they were a victim of identity theft recently. If you share a common workplace, church, or group of friends there's a chance that you, too, have been a victim.
- Shred your personal information. Anything more than your name and address can be used by an identity thief. Shredding this information before you throw it to the curb for the trash man may be the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.