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Identity Theft, Protecting Yourself Against the #1 Crime in the World

Apr 15, 2008
Identity Theft is now the number one crime in the entire world. It is estimated that $221 billion a year is lost by businesses worldwide due to identity theft. Cyber crime units now analyze 2,000 to 3,000 new viruses per hour. Much of the malware harvests financial and personal data sold to groups who turn it into cash through identity fraud.

One simple toll-free telephone call can block 99.9% of personal exposure to Identity Theft. Aside from expediency of commerce, it's shocking that legislation has not been enacted to automatically force this common action without the consumer having to make the call.

Every 3 Seconds someone becomes a victim of Identity Theft, 20 lives ruined every minute, 1200 every hour, 28,800 every day, 201,600 every month, and 2,419,200 every year. The impact on the individual is staggering with thousands of dollars in costs and dozens of hours wasted trying to deal with the personal devastation. It could all have been avoided with one simple telephone call.

On an individual level, how does one become a victim of Identity Theft? And most importantly, how can we avoid becoming a victim of this prevalent crime? The odds are clearly stacked against society, our personal information is readily available in this high technology world.

Just as we use firewalls and virus protection programs for our computer health, we need to closely examine the anatomy of this crime of opportunity. What protections are available to insulate us against the potential damage from stolen personal idenitity information?

Many of us may already be victims of Identity Theft and don't know it yet, or the impact of the fraud has yet to be perpetuated or discovered. Remember those special event tickets you bought, or the hotel reservation, car rental, or airline flight reservation call you made?

Have you ever purchased an automobile and filled out a loan application? How about an application for a cell phone, a store credit card, or an application for an apartment rental? What about a school, personal or equity loan?

Remember all of the information you probably provided? You most likely gave your credit card details, or birth date, social security number, address, bank account references, employment information and/or phone number.

Now ask yourself a few questions ... Who has access to all of that information? Do you know them? Do you trust them? What's to stop them from selling or misusing that data?

It's a scary proposition, but right now there are probably several file cabinets or computer storage files in different places of business that house enough of your personal information to allow for an easy theft of your identity. It's a fact of life, we're ALL vulnerable. But you can easily block the use of that information. You'll see how in just a moment, but first ...

How does information theft become Identity Theft?

Stealing your personal information is only the first step in the criminal process. Once the information is gathered, the thief must then convert that information into a means by which he or she can profit.

One popular method is to simply call one of your credit card companies posing as you and change the billing address for the card and then begin making a series of purchases. Identity Theft perpetrators don't even need your credit card, they can simply call and have a duplicate card issued. They can establish utility, cable, or cell phone service in your name. Some even obtain leases, car loans and more.

In one recent case, a local bank in Montgomery County, Maryland USA issued a check for $100,000 for an equity loan on a home. The entire transaction was recorded on bank cameras as the check was handed to an impersonator of the home's actual owner. And that was the second time it happened to the same victim who was exonerated by authorities as an accomplice in the case.

Identity theft ruins lives. It creates a seemingly infinite number of short term problems that turn into a nightmare that can linger for decades. Don't assume that it can't happen to you.

ATMs are one the latest points of attack. Thieves have developed credit cards that can temporarily program any ATM machine to copy the magnetic data off of your credit or debit card when you use the machine. This method has effectively collected hundreds of victims in the course of a single weekend from a single machine.

Identity thieves also use handheld magnetic card readers that can be easily purchased right on the internet. Culprits include waiters and waitresses, store clerks, toll booth collectors, and gas station attendants to name a few.

64% of all fraud complaints involve identity theft and it's not just credit cards. With your personal information, thieves can open bank accounts, order checks and run up huge debt by writing bad checks in your name. Identity thieves have become so creative and talented that most protections schemes can be thwarted.

So what's the answer? Credit monitoring services like those offered by the credit bureau agencies? Simply put, that's like having an alarm to alert you after you've been ripped off.

The solution is clear, placing a Fraud Alert on your credit profile with the primary credit bureau agencies will block 99.9% of attempts to use your personal information for credit without your permission. Fraud Alerts require direct contact with you before an account can be opened or credit extended in your name. They can be put in place for a period of 90 days and can be renewed every three months.

Unlike fraud alerts, the alternative Credit Freeze option remains in place indefinitely and no credit of any kind can be issued in your name until you take the required steps to remove the freeze.

Just one telephone call is all it takes to any of the primary credit bureaus in the United States:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Identity Theft is not the only problem in using credit. Inside the complex credit system there are credit robbers. Some of your most trusted creditors are damaging your credit scores and credit rating without your knowledge.

But that's a story for another article, for now you would be well advised to immediately place a Fraud Alert on your credit profile with any of the credit bureau agencies. Then be sure to update that order every 90 days. It's the best way to avoid becoming an Identity Theft victim.
About the Author
Robert Miller, Ph.D., Fortune 500 Investigations Analyst, author of The Credit Robbers has a FREE 35 page report, Identity Theft Protection and Recovery . The Credit Robbers Newsletter with Tips to Avoiding ID Theft and Boost your Credit Rating, all available at http://STOPIdTheftReport.com
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