Identity theft is happening more often these days due to technology and raises an appropriate question “What should one do?”
This is a more complex issue than most realize because identify theft can assume several different forms. Commonly we think of it as theft from our financial accounts, but this has become more difficult for thieves due to several layers of security developed by financial institutions. Plus, the institutions usually cover the loss if notified promptly.
So what should we worry about? If we consider how we can be harmed by identity theft other than direct loss of money, then loss of good credit standing or a tarnished reputation come to mind, as well as the hassle and time lost to correcting records. Other versions of theft like assumption of identity for employment purposes or medical claims or to avoid legal penalties have also occurred.
While these can all be corrected, it can be extremely inconvenient and troublesome. So how should one prevent or intervene if this occurs?
Certain companies have emerged that promise protection, but in our view, what they are actually providing is surveillance. This may also be accomplished by personal vigilance and because your personal information is known best by you, no one else can distinguish as accurately as you can if something suspicious has occurred in your records.
This means that we all should monitor our accounts regularly (not to be confused with balancing or managing them in some way) for transactions that are familiar versus those that seem suspicious. Monitoring is a healthy habit anyway, and is easier if we simplify our account structure and access to information.
Do this by eliminating duplication of checking or charge accounts, and concentrate activity in a reasonable, easier to monitor number of accounts. Then scan these accounts on a pre-determined schedule. Also monitor your employment reports, medical bills, and of course, your credit report.
Your credit report can be obtained free at www.annualcreditreport.com (not to be confused with hundreds of other sites that charge fees). Your credit report can be requested from three different agencies once per year. So ordering one every 4 months and scanning it will keep you informed (and isn’t credit an important issue these days as it affects access to loans, insurance rates, even employment opportunities?)
One additional note: evidence from studies on how your information is stolen and utilized indicates that it usually is by an entity who steals large volumes of data for resale and the buyer of the information uses for various scams which must get past many layers and walls of protection. Groups who work with this problem comment that usually for the thieves to succeed, lack of vigilance must occur by all the interested parties and that in many cases, the potential victims never even find out that their information was stolen.
Identity theft is increasingly common, so it pays to be vigilant of information reported about you. Thus, active vigilance of your identity information is the ultimate safeguard.