What it is
Identity fraud, or identity theft, is a crime where a victim's personal information is used without their permission in the commission of a crime. Victims of identity fraud often incur thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs to restore their lifestyle after their personal information has been compromised by a fraudster. In addition to these costs, victims spend countless hours taking care of the restoration of their good name.
How to prevent it
Be careful and responsible with your personal information. Educate yourself about the different ways that your information can be compromised:
- Shoulder Surfing - when someone can steal information in an ATM line, or at the grocery store, or anytime you have credit card or i.d. out in the open
- Social Engineering/Pretexting/Phishing - when you receive mail, email, or telephone call and someone poses as someone else in order to entice you to divulge information that you give because of who you think you are talking to.
- Social Networking - be careful of privacy on websites such as facebook, myspace, a web blog, or other websites where you may post information about yourself.
- Stealing your wallet or purse, going through mail or trash
- Computer Hacking - through a computer virus or malicious software, thieves can access your computer files or monitor the information you enter on the computer.
It's a good practice to keep your information private and secure. Some information you may be required to give out. Be sure you know why the information is needed and how it will be used. Only give out information to those you trust, and only when you can confirm that they are who they claim to be.
What to do if you are a victim
- File a report with the police
- Notify your bank, credit card company, etc.
- Look over statements and verify activity. Dispute any transactions you did not authorize.
- Check your credit report (available free one time per year at http://annualcreditreport.com).
Insuring against loss to identity fraud
Many insurance carriers offer coverage for victims of identity fraud as an optional coverage that can be added on to a homeowner's, renter's, or automobile policy. The cost is often around $20 per year and can go a long way if you are victimized. It does not prevent your identity from being stolen, but it can make the recovery process a lot easier and save you some peace of mind.