There doesn’t seem to be much doubt anymore that identity theft is the fastest growing crime ANYWHERE. If you aren’t a victim of it yet, you know someone who has been. Give it enough time and you will be too. It just depends on how proactive you are as to how much of a victim you will be. Just as you take precautions to avoid being the victim of a violent crime – parking in a well-lit area, making sure your doors are locked, paying attention to your surroundings – you can take precautions to minimize, or avoid altogether, the chances that you will have your identity stolen.
It’s important to remember that it is not a one-time act to protecting your identity, but a mind-set we must all take to minimize our chances of being a victim; at the same time, it also important that we not think of ourselves as invulnerable to identity theft despite our best efforts to be proactive in our defense. We can minimize our chances, but there is still the chance that you are too tempting a target to someone. To that end, I want this blog to also talk about how to identify when you have become a victim and how to recover. I like the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s slogan on this: “Deter. Detect. Defend.” By the way, they also have a very informative site with some excellent tools and advice.
A lot of the information I will attempt to provide on this blog will relate to U.S. law and procedure –it’s where I live and work, so what would you expect? However, there will also be nuggets of information that are near global in their application. They will apply equally to someone in Knoxville, Tennessee as to someone in Larissa, Greece. It amounts to being wary when giving someone else our personal information.
Sunday afternoon, I was sitting at the house, trying to survive the blistering heat we have been suffering through, when I received a phone call from my gasoline company’s credit card provider fraud department. They asked a series of questions to verify my identity and then asked me to verify a series of recent transactions. I was naturally suspicious because some identity thieves pretend to be verifying information, when what they are doing is collecting information to take your identity. However, they didn't ask confidential information, just enough to verify my identity and then asked me to verify charges I had made that day - charges that no one but my credit provider would know. They did not say WHY they wanted me to verify, but based on the transactions, I realized why. My wife, my daughter, and I had each made gasoline purchases within an hour or so of each other but in different cities. That would certainly make me suspicious of an account. While they didn’t halt the transactions, they did take the time to verify that the transactions were authorized by me, affording me the opportunity to make sure someone had not gained access to my charge account.
Bottom line, if you are going to have a credit card account, make sure your creditor takes as much interest in verifying your identity, and that the person using your card is authorized, as you do. Ask if they actively monitor for fraud and how. If they don’t, find another creditor. There are too many creditors out there looking for good customers for you to stick with a creditor that is not going to be as proactive in preventing fraud as you.
Have you been a victim of identity theft? If so, what happened and how did you correct it? I would love to read your story!