It’s an increasingly common problem the 21st-century marketplace. Nearly everyone engages in remote purchasing, either online, by phone or mail order, and your virtual identity is the only connection between you and the seller.
Nowadays, everyone is using the power of the internet to purchase things, and unfortunately for that these stores need your personal information and your credit card number. Giving away your valuable information should something that you only do when you are completely sure that you will not get scammed.
When you find a product that you like and want to purchase, but the website is looking shady or you see they are not developed enough, then you should not give them your information. The best thing to do in those situations is to simply find a more reliable website and make your purchase there.
Which is fine, until someone gets a hold of this identity and secretly takes your place in the virtual marketplace.
What can an identity thief do?
- Buy a car with your name on the loan papers.
- Take out credit cards that will be billed to you.
- Take over your existing credit cards, making unauthorized purchases with your legitimate account.
- Establish service in your name including cell phones, utilities, apartment rental, etc.
- Run up a lot of debts that they have no intention of paying but which will, at the very least, impact your credit rating.
How do they do it?
Basically, by getting a hold of enough personal information that the identity thief can use to pretend to be you. This includes:
- Social Security Number
- Credit Card Numbers
- Bank Account Numbers
- Name, Address, Phone Number
- On line passwords
The same kind of information that you used to get your credit cards, on line accounts, loan offers, etc.
How do they get it?
By a variety of means, some high tech, some at the opposite end of the spectrum. High tech identity thieves use sophisticated computer programs to take over your PC and mine it for personal information.
The low-tech approach, called social information, is just ask you. This is called ‘social engineering’ or ‘phishing’, and can come in the form of letters, emails or phone calls from supposedly important people at your bank or credit card company or even government officials.
What do you do?
- First of all, you need to keep an eye on your account activity. Read your bank and credit card statements every month and keep an eye out for charges that you did not make. Report them immediately.
- Run regular credit reports on yourself. This will show any accounts opened up in your name that you did not initiate.
- Keep your credit card and account numbers in safe but easy to find place, say a notebook in a locked cabinet or safe. This will allow you to quickly respond to an suspected unauthorized activity.
- Report the unauthorized activity.
Unauthorized use of a person’s name for financial gain is illegal. Call the police and file a report. If your state or community has an official identity theft task force, contact them as well.
The more people you have looking for the perpetrator, the more likely he or she will be found and stopped.
- Close suspect accounts immediately.
- Contact one of the credit reporting companies and have them set a fraud alert status on your credit history. This will alert potential creditors that there have been attempts to compromise your accounts and they should look more closely into any credit applications made in your name. This will affect your own ability to get credit, but it will also greatly hamper the perpetrator from continuing to use you for new schemes.
- Report this to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/idtheft. It is their job to help fight these crimes.
In addition to these steps, there are a number of on line resources that can help you wade through the morass of calls, emails and letters required to straighten up your credit once it has been compromised. Check them out first in online forums and the Better Business Bureau. If you have a good relationship with your bank, ask one of their account executives for help.