The main thing that you need to know about identity theft is that you are not immune. Anybody can be a victim of identity theft, and even the most careful people occasionally fall prey. However, there are some things that you can do to protect yourself.
One thing you can do to protect yourself against identity theft is to shred your documents before throwing them away. The information that the average person throws into the trash each day contains plenty of fodder to help a criminal steal your identity. The credit card applications that you receive can be used against you. If you throw them away, someone can fetch them out of your trash and start a card in your name. An even worse thing that people throw away is account statements. If someone gets a hold of your bank statement, they have enough information about you to access the account. They might even use the information to open their own account in your name. Buy a shredder and make sure that if someone is riffling through your trash they are not going to happen upon information they can use to steal your identity.
Your computer is the other place that thieves target when trying to steal your identity. Online identity theft has boomed in the last ten years and thieves are constantly coming up with new ways to tap into your online activities. One way to prevent thieves from seeing the personal and account information is by using anti-spyware software. Professional criminals have gone high tech and now use downloadable software programs to get a hold of your information. The best way to prevent online identity theft is to buy anti-spyware software. If you have a commercial anti-virus program (that is an anti-virus program that you paid for) you most likely have anti-spyware included. Go to the website of your anti-virus provider to find out about your protection.
If you don’t have anti-spyware protection, you need to get it. You will have to pay for the best program. These don’t cost much; you will have to pay about fifty dollars a year. There are free programs but they are not nearly as good at blocking spyware as the commercial programs. If you use free programs, you might want to download two or three to increase your protection. If you have been online without anti-spyware protection, download a spyware removal program, you are almost certainly already infected.
The other time that you really have to be careful of identity theft is when you are using your email. Hopefully you have a powerful spam blocker on your email program but even if you do, bad emails may still get through. The best way to avoid email scams that lead to identity theft is to not open any emails if you don’t recognize the sender. Just delete them as soon as you see them in your inbox. You may be tempted by some of the message lines in the scam email, for example, “problem with your account”, “refund notification”, or “overdue notice”. Message lines like this are just a way for the bad guys to try to get a hold of things like the passwords and the usernames that you typically use.
If you discover that you have already been victimized, there are some things you can do. The first thing that you should do is notify one of three credit-reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Notifying any of these companies will insure that you get a phone call if anybody tries to get credit in your name. The next thing you should do is report the identity theft to the police.