Identity theft is one of the fast-growing types of crime, and is so widespread, that more than 11 million people were victims in the past year, with a total loss of about $54 billion.
Identity theft is defined as the stealing of personal information such as your name, credit card number, Social Security number, driver's license number or other personal identifying information in order to commit fraud.
Thieves use this stolen information to apply for telephone service, credit cards, lines of credit, payday loans, purchase cars, lease apartments, obtain medical care or apply for a job. They can even commit crimes, using your name, which means you would have the criminal record – and not the identity thief.
Identity theft is so common because it's so easy. Many people think it won't happen to them, and therefore take little or no precautions. How can you prevent being a victim of identity theft?
First, be sure to review your credit card statements monthly. Call your credit card issuer immediately if you see any fraudulent or questionable items. If you don't receive your statement at the usual time, call your credit card issuer immediately. Someone may have changed the billing address to prevent you from seeing unauthorized charges.
Don't throw away credit card slips, statements or other documents containing personal information. Shred them. You should also shred pre-approved credit card offers.
Go through your credit report with a fine-toothed comb at least once a year. Contact any creditors that appear as fraudulent or questionable items.
Be sure to guard your Social Security number and never carry your card in your wallet. Keep it someplace secure.
Never give out personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the call or are sure the person on the other end is trustworthy.
When shopping online, be sure to use secured sites, which have "https" in the URL. Don't click the box asking if you want to save your credit card number for easy ordering on your next visit. It's safer not to have this information stored.
If you fall victim to identity theft, report it immediately to the bank or credit card company. File a report with the local police or sheriff's department. You should also call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338, and call the three credit reporting bureaus as well.