Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and with it their hard-earned money - cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even be arrested for crimes they didn't commit.
Here are some precautions to help avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Do not show anybody important personal information (such as your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, pin codes or personal identity number, date of birth, insurance policy numbers, passport number etc) unless absolutely necessary for reasons such as filling in tax forms, opening bank accounts, applying for benefits, employment records etc,
- Do not carry your passport, birth certificate or extra credit cards with you except when necessary. Make sure you keep your passport in a safe place.
- Keep a copy of all valuable personal documentation in a safe place. Also, make a copy of everything you keep in your wallet (such as drivers license, ID, credit cards, etc.)
- Put a lock on your mailbox and do not let the mail stay in your box for too long.
- Have your name removed from marketing lists and arrange to stop advertising material being sent to your mailbox (ask at the post office).
- Never leave behind receipts, especially those from cash points (ATMs), petrol stations and other credit card payments. Do not throw them in public litter bins.
Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
- Make sure you keep track of the information on your bank statements and all activities on your accounts. Check with your bank/finance institution immediately if you suspect irregularities.
- Do not keep your pin codes in your wallet.
- If your wallet is stolen, cancel your credit cards immediately. File a police report in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation.
- Register all your credit cards with a card protection plan. With your credit card contract, you should have an insurance that covers fraudulent money withdrawals. Most credit-card companies have an emergency number you can call if your card is lost or stolen. The service may include wiring you a cash advance or providing you with a replacement card.
- Nowadays you can link all your accounts together, and if you and your partner have separate accounts you may be able to arrange with your bank to have your partner's credit limit lifted if your cards are stolen.
- Ask your bank, credit card company, telephone company and utility companies to place passwords or extra security protections on your accounts.
- Create unpredictable pin codes and passwords and change them regularly. Do not give your pin number to anyone.
- It is NOT wise to send your credit card information via email as that is not a secure source.
- Update your virus protection regularly, as viruses can steal files with personal information that you may keep in your computer.
- Do not download files from people you do not know.
- Install filters and a fire wall programme on your PC, especially if you have a high speed connection (DSL), to protect against hackers.
- Do not store personal financial information on your computer and use a low limit credit card for online transactions.