In the right criminal hands, your personal information can be more precious than almost any other of your valued possessions.
Think about this: To unscrupulous thugs, such as identity thieves, personal information such as your Social Security number, your bank and credit card account numbers, and even your name, address, and phone number can be used to commit fraud.
Identity theft, which occurs when someone pilfers your personal data for criminal purposes, is the fastest-growing crime in the United States. These identity thieves steal your personal information to open new credit accounts, order merchandise, and even borrow money, all in your name and without your authorization or knowledge.
Many times, sadly, innocent consumers are not even aware they have been victimized by identity thieves until they are contacted by collection agencies trying to recover debts they did not even know they had.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages folks to make sure their transactions, both online and off, are secure and that personal information is protected.
Here are some FTC tips to help you protect your personal data:
3. Put passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, or your phone number, or obvious choices like a series of consecutive numbers or your hometown football team.
4. Minimize the identification information and the number of credit cards you carry to what you actually need. Do not put all of your identifying information in one holder in your purse, briefcase, or backpack.
5. Keep items with your personal information in a safe place. When you discard receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards, credit offers you get in the mail and mailing labels from magazines — properly tear and/or shred them.
6. Consider ordering a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you have authorized.
A Quick Security Tip: Some identity theft authorities suggest you review copies of your credit reports even more frequently than once a year.
7. Use a secure browser when shopping online to help guard the security of your transactions. When submitting your purchase information, look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.
These are just some very basic ideas to help make identity theft a bit harder. For more information, log on to www.ftc.gov.
My Final Thoughts: In the high-tech world in which we live, the challenge of safeguarding your personal information is paramount. Identity thieves are just waiting to obtain your personal data for their unlawful use.
Identity theft is a particularly ugly crime. Victims of identity theft may have to spend many hours and hundreds of dollars trying to restore their good names and reputations. These identity thugs are not just stealing something from you; they are, in effect, stealing “you.”
Copyright 2010 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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