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Special to California Business Journal.
Being a victim of identity theft or fraud is a scary experience. The information you put online or on forms could be used in ways you never thought possible, including maxing out your credit cards, applying for an apartment, or forging bank cheques. To help protect yourself from potential misuse of your information, look out for signs or situations that could be used to exploit you.
If you or someone you know is a victim of identity fraud in the United States, take action right away by contacting the Federal Trade Commission to report a crime. Call toll-free at 1-877-ID THEFT (877) 438-4338 or online at the Federal Trade Commissions website.
What is Identity (ID) Theft or Fraud?
Identity theft is someone taking your personal information, like your financial account number, credit card information, or Social Security Number for a criminal or unlawful purpose. Anyone could fall victim to identity theft, including celebrities. In California, for example, all forms of identity fraud are crimes.
About 12.7 million U.S. adults are victims of this crime per year, which equates to 4% of all United States citizens, with over 1.5 million of them hailing from California. Identity theft is costly for individuals and accounts for millions of dollars in lost revenue per year. Since 2013, identity theft has decreased steadily due to sophisticated identity theft protection software and consumer knowledge on how to prevent the crime from taking place.
How Does Identity Theft Occur?
There are many situations a person could find themselves in that could lead to identity theft occurring. These could be direct, like a person stealing your identification cards from your wallet or your mail from your home. However, it’s more common for identity theft to occur indirectly because it doesn’t involve the criminal coming in direct contact with the victim. For example, a criminal may complete a “change of address form” to redirect mail to another location, or they may take your personal information you share or post on the internet.
How to Prevent ID Theft
The best way to prevent Identity fraud is to keep your belongings in a safe place at all times, including at work. Never keep your wallet in your back pocket or in an area that could easily be misplaced or stolen without notice. Keep passwords on all of your credit cards, bank cards, and phone accounts and ensure they’re all a different combination of numbers and letters. Different passwords can help protect your other accounts in case one of them is breached. You might even want to use a password manager to help with this.
Mail that includes your personal information should be shredded or destroyed before discarded in the trash. If possible, place a lock on your dumpster to ensure no one steals this discarded information. Finally, never give out your personal information to anyone over the phone or mail unless you know the receiver and have initiated the contact.
How to Protect Your Personal Devices From ID Theft
It’s common for your financial records, SSN, tax information, account numbers, and birth dates to be stored on your personal computer and devices. Whether you’re using this information to sign up for an account or email, it’s essential to keep that information safe. Be sure to update your virus protection software regularly, including after a new virus alert. Only buy or use virus protection and firewall software from a trusted source.
Never download files from anyone you don’t trust, including on e-mails or click hyperlinks. This is the most common way hackers download your personal information on their computers. Finally, use a secure browser to guard the security of your online transactions, or use an online wallet like PayPal, which double encrypts your transaction.
What to Do If You’re a Victim of ID Theft
Act quickly to ensure that more information or finances aren’t moved. Contact the fraud department in your country or state and close all of the accounts you know have been tampered with, or suspect may be tampered with in the future. File a police report with your local police or in the community it took place – even if the theft happened online.