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Educational Consumer Tips

Identity Fraud

Author: Rachel Gelb
Category: Finance

Consumer identity fraud is on the rise in the United States. The criminals who commit this fraud use a variety of methods, from stealing credit card numbers, driver's license numbers, ATM cards, social security numbers, telephone calling cards, and other key pieces of personal information.

Oftentimes, dishonest employees of retail stores, restaurants, hotels, mail order houses, even financial institutions, sell this information to criminals. Criminals use this information to impersonate victims, spending as much of the victim's money as quickly as possible before moving on to the next victim. The victims are usually left with a damaged reputation and bad credit. It may take many months or even years trying to regain financial health.

The Better Business Bureau recommends that consumers exercise extreme caution with their personal data. To minimize your losses due to identity theft, the BBB suggests the following tips:

  • Don't carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse, except when necessary.
  • When using an ATM or public telephone, shield the screen or keypad so "shoulder surfers" cannot read your Personal Identification Number (PIN) or other data.
  • Take ATM, credit card and other receipts with you, and either save them in a safe place, or destroy them in such way that they cannot be read. Also, shred pre-approved credit card offers.
  • Cancel all unused credit card accounts. Even though you don't use them, their account numbers are recorded in a credit report that can be used by identity thieves.
  • Keep a list of all credit cards, the account numbers, and customer service telephone numbers in a safe place in case your wallet is stolen.
  • Protect your Social Security Number (SSN). The SSN is the key to your credit and banking accounts and is the prime target of criminals. Don't give out your SSN or any credit card number over the phone to anyone you don?t know or to a company you are not familiar with.

If you become the victim of identity theft, it is extremely important that you act immediately to stop further use of your identity. Report the crime to the police. Immediately call all of your credit card issuers (this call can save you from liability from any fraudulent charges). Call the fraud unit of the three credit reporting agencies; Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. Also, notify your bank(s) of the theft. Cancel all bank accounts and obtain new account information.

About the Author: Rachel Gelb is Communications and Marketing Manager for BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Find Rachel on Google +.

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