The fraudulent appropriation and use of someone's identifying or personal data or documents, such as a credit card. - Dictionary.com
Identity theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal identifying information (PII) such as Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers and uses them for their own personal gain. It can start with lost or stolen wallets, stolen mail, a data breach, computer virus, “phishing” scams, or paper documents thrown out by you or a business (dumpster). With South Florida being number one in the country in identity theft cases, here are some tips to assist residents to avoid being the victim of identity theft.
- Don’t give out your SSN unnecessarily (only for tax reasons, credit or verified employment.) Before providing personal identifiers, know how it will be used and if it will be shared.
- Use a cross-cut shredder to dispose of documents with personal information. Also, use a specialized gel pen when writing out checks.
- Place outgoing mail in collection boxes or the U.S. Post Office.
- Know your billing cycles and contact creditors when bills fail to show up. Review bank and credit card statements carefully.
- Password protect your financial accounts. A strong password should be more than eight characters in length, and contain both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non- alphabetical character. Use of non-dictionary words is also recommended.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact.
- Use firewall software to protect computer information. Keep virus and spyware software programs updated.
- Reduce the number of preapproved credit card offers you receive: 888-5OPT-OUT
- Order your free annual credit reports on-line at: www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228
- You may also “freeze” your credit report.
Identity theft happens. It's an unfortunate fact of modern life. But there are certain steps you can take to help keep your personalinformation from falling into the wrong hands.
Every day, you do things to protect what's most important to you. And you know what? You do them almost automatically. Routine things like looking both ways before you cross, brushing your teeth, and buckling your seat belt. Another routine to get into is keeping tabs on your identity and personal information. Here are five easy ways you can do it.
- Read your credit card and bank statements carefully and often.
- Know your payment due dates.
- If a bill doesn't show up when you expect it, look into it.
- Read the statements from your health insurance plan.
- Make sure the claims paid match the care you got.
- Shred any documents with personal and financial information.
- Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year. It's easy, and it's free.
Below are additional Identity Theft resources.
Identity Theft Task Force
FTC Consumer Information
Social Security Fraud
SSA Fraud Advisory
IRS Identity Protection Information
IRS - Identity Theft and Fraudulently Obtained Tax Refund Checks
DOJ - Identity Theft and Identity Fraud
Credit Report Fraud
Cybercrimes and ID Theft