Read about the precautions you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of this very serious crime.
Arun was surprised when he started receiving calls from people telling him his car loan payments were due as he did not even own a car. When the calls refused to stop, he personally visited the loan department of the bank. He was shocked to find that someone had taken a loan for a large sum of money in his name. He had no idea how anyone could have found out his personal financial details and used them. Even the bank manager refused to believe that Arun had not taken the loan himself.
In today's digital world, even criminals have become more sophisticated. Identity theft is a real danger that can ruin a person both financially and mentally. However, by being vigilant and noticing any discrepancies, you can protect yourself and minimise your chances of being targeted.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft begins when someone acquires your personal details without your knowledge. The criminal then uses this information to apply for loans or make exorbitant purchases, without the victim finding out, until it is too late. The real danger though is that in most cases, you will not be able to prove that your identity has been stolen.
How does Someone Steal an Identity?
The easiest way for someone to steal your identity is to go through your garbage, looking for any documents with your personal details on it. Another way would be to intercept your mail before you receive it and go through your bank statements or credit card receipts. Your information could even be stolen at your workplace or the bank itself. In some cases, criminals can hack into your personal computer and obtain the information.
Anyone could be an identity thief, not just a known criminal. It can be a co-worker or an employee at the bank. It can sometimes even be a trusted friend. This is why you should be careful who you talk to about your finances. Identity thieves often pose as government officials carrying out surveys or representatives of credit card companies to trick unsuspecting people.
What can a Thief do with a Stolen Identity?
Once your identity has been stolen, the first thing the thief does is to get your mailing address changed. This prevents you from detecting if anything is amiss. A thief can do almost anything by pretending to be you. For example, he can use your existing account or open a new bank account in your name and use it to issue checks. He could take out a loan for a house or vehicle. He will even be able to make purchases at stores, and online, using a credit card in your name. In a worst case scenario, he will give your name and address if he is arrested for any crime.
What are the Signs of Identity Theft?
Although identity theft is virtually undetectable until it is too late, there are some things you can look out for. This will help you to investigate if you are in trouble. The first step is to thoroughly go through your regular bank statements and your credit card bills. You can detect if any fraudulent transactions have taken place or if you cannot account for a sum of money.
Another sign of possible identity theft is missing your mail. Failure to receive your regular bank statement could mean that someone has changed your mailing address. Even if your mail has not arrived a few days after it should, call up the bank or credit card company to check if it has been sent to the right address. The third thing is not to dismiss calls from companies or stores, asking you to pay your outstanding bills for goods or services that you never asked for.
What can you do to protect yourself?
If your wallet is stolen, you should immediately cancel your credit card and ask the company to issue you a new account number and password. Also, do not carry all your credit and debit cards with you when you go out. Just take two or three of them with you. Never give out any account details or passwords to people who call you or send you messages, claiming to be representatives from your bank, credit card provider, etc. Call up the company directly to find out if the said person is actually an employee.
Always shred documents before putting them into the garbage bin. Do this even for the cards that you throw away. Make arrangements with a trustworthy neighbour or friend to collect your mail if you are going to be away from home for a few days. Try to find out how your personal information is handled at your workplace.
Always remove all traces of all the files from your computer's hard disk before you throw it away or give it to someone. Install a good anti-virus software and firewall program and update it regularly. This will minimise the chances of a hacker gaining access to your files. Never use a common password like your birth date or phone number, which can be guessed easily. Also, check the security certificate of a website before you give out any of your personal details.
Identity theft can ruin your finances as well as your reputation. However, by being prepared, you can enjoy your financial freedom and stay one step ahead of crooks.