Friday, January 04, 2008

Implementing Identity Theft Protection

By Jay Anderson

Unless you have been living in a cave or under a rock lately, chances are great that you have heard about the crime of identity theft. This is one of the fastest growing crimes of this century and it continues to increase every year. The Federal Trade Commission consumer reports indicates that identity theft accounts for more than 40% of all the FTC complaints filed each year.

But even more than the number of reported cases is the financial loss associated with this crime. For the sum total of both business and consumer identity theft, the financial loss is estimated to be greater than $50 billion per year, which makes it one of the most expensive crimes on the record books.

Identity theft is not limited to the simple act of using your credit card to make an online purchase. In fact, the Internet is frequently not even associated with this crime, despite what some doomsayers claim about online transactions. But it is surprising to note that as much as 70% of cases are an inside job for business cases, meaning that the thief is an employee of the business, perhaps even a business you shop at today.

Further investigation into this crime shows that in more than 25% of reported cases, the victim knew or was related to the thief. This is not merely a misunderstanding between family members, but rather are actual reported cases where the crime was committed with malicious intent.

People today are far too free with giving out their personal information to whoever claims to need it, like even the clerk at the grocery store checkout. They do not need nor have any right to know your personal information, and if you give it to them, ask to see their written policy as to how that information will be used.

The "keys to your kingdom" is your social security number. Do not carry your social security card in your wallet or purse. There are very few occasions when you need to divulge that piece of information and it is not something you should carry with you in case your wallet or purse is stolen.

If you spend any amount of time online at all, you have probably seen the spam emails that are allegedly from your bank or credit union, asking you to click a link to verify your personal information. Never ever click the link in those emails. Although the email may look official, complete with your bank's graphic logo, any 12 year old these days can create such an email, and if you give out your personal information at the site you are taken to, you have become a victim. A real bank or financial institution would never ask you to verify that information online. If in doubt, call your bank and ask what kind of information they need you to verify, where you will almost always find that they have NOT had a security breach and do not need you to verify anything.

There are many other common sense things you should do to protect yourself against identity theft, but the bottom line is to not give out your personal information. There is usually not a good reason for someone else to have that information, and you are your own best resource in terms of protecting it.

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