No one believes they’ll become a victim of identity theft, but identity theft stories are real. Thieves prey on your carelessness, and if you want to be less vulnerable, it’s important that you understand identity theft and take steps to keep your private information safe.
A review of identity theft statistics underscores the extent of this crime. In fact, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, reports TransUnion. There are approximately 9.9 million cases of identity theft each year, and 19 people are victimized every minute. But there is good news. Most cases of identity theft can be avoided, and the sooner you detect problems with your identity, the easier it is to restore your good name.
Identity theft is a type of fraud wherein someone steals your personal information – such as your Social Security number, credit card information or bank account information – for financial gain. Thieves assume your identity. And once they’ve obtained enough useful information on you, they can open new accounts in your name.
Thieves collect your personal information in various ways. Some concentrate their efforts online and use fraudulent emails to gain access to your personal information or online accounts. Others use the telephone and call potential victims, whereas others rely on traditional methods, such as dumpster diving or stealing items from your mailbox.
Identity theft is no small crime and the consequences can wreck havoc on different areas in your life. Too often, victims don’t learn of the crime until they’re denied a credit card or loan. They might check their credit report after the denial and discover many unfamiliar accounts. Regardless of whether you’re innocent, identity theft harms your credit and prevents mortgage, auto loan and credit card approvals. To make matters worse, it can take several months or years to undo the damage. Based on identity theft statistics, it takes approximately $500 and 30 hours to resolve identity theft. But the impact of identity theft doesn’t stop here.
Some victims of identity theft are bombarded with collection letters and creditor phone calls. Denying debt doesn’t stop letters and phone calls. Creditors typically continue their collections until you can prove fraud.
Identity theft prevention is key to safeguarding your credit and credit score. Being careful with your personal information is one way to avoid this headache. Creditors and banks will never ask you to verify personal or account information over the phone or via email. Ignore any calls or emails asking you to update your personal information, and notify your bank or credit card company of scams.
Additionally, never carry your Social Security card or multiple credit cards in your wallet. Shred bank and credit card statements, and do not leave your personal information out for others to see. Most importantly, check your own credit report once or twice a year to ensure the accuracy of information.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, contact the fraud department of each of the credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. This action will place a fraud alert on your credit file and prevent the opening of new accounts. Next, contact creditors and close accounts that have been compromised or opened without your authorization. Thirdly, file a police report to start a paper trail and maintain a record of the crime. Before resolving any damages, many creditors will need to see a copy of your police report. Lastly, contact the Social Security Administration and DMV to request a new SSN and driver’s license number.