Online Cyber Crime Awareness Tips: Identity Theft Prevention

Identity theft is a newer form of fraud. Here's how to recognize and prevent credit card fraud online.

Identity theft, also called identity fraud, occurs when scammers steal credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or even mothers' maiden names. All the experts indicate the problem is increasing. Law enforcement officials indict about 400,000 Americans are affected annually. Unlike other types of fraud, identity theft can be extremely difficult to detect until the damage is done. In addition, it can be accomplished over a period of months or even years, before the unwary victim even realizes there's a problem.

The growth might be explained by the incentives to criminals: A savvy identity thief can run up to $30,000 in bills on each individual victim, compared to the average bank robbery which nets just $3000. In general, the bank robbery is more risky.

Identity thieves can work in several ways, but the basis is the same. They gather personal information in order to steal from that individual. Called a "faceless" crime, the perpetrators never see the person they are hurting.

These scammers particularly like Social Security numbers, which they can use as a means of procuring other genuine identification documents.

They may open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and Social Security number. When they use the card, and don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Once the credit is maxed out, the imposter disappears and moves onto another victim. Repairing the damage can be especially difficult. One thief managed to do this to an unsuspecting woman for a full eight years. You can imagine how tough it was for the victim to convince the credit card company it wasn't her paying those monthly bills.

Some call the credit card company, pretending to be you, change the mailing address on your account. They the imposter runs charges. Because the bills are being mailed to the new address, you may not immediately realize there's a problem.

Two other ways are establishing cellular phone service in your name or open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on the account.

What can you do to avoid identify fraud? Take prudent precautions.

* Get a report from the Social Security Administration to make sure no one else is using your number.

* Request a complete credit report, once a year and check it closely.

* When you get unwanted pre-approved credit card offers, shred them up before tossing them.

* When in public, do not recite your social security number outloud to a bank teller or store cashier.

* Use a secure mailbox that locks.

* When asked to give your mother's maiden name as a code access, use another key word instead.

* Change the personal identification numbers on your accounts regularly.

* If your social security number is on your timecard and the card is visible to your coworkers, ask to have it removed.

* Pick up and keep printed receipts at bank machines or gas pumps.

If you think you may have been a victim of identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission hotline at 877- IDTheft. They also have an informative booklet about this problem which can be ordered via the hotline.

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