Don’t Be a Victim: How to Prevent Identity Theft (Part One of Two)

Identity theft has become the crime of the new millennium.  Most people have heard of it, but, unfortunately, many people are tragically unaware of the methodology of these criminals and the ways to prevent them.  In this profile, we will discuss how criminals obtain your information and use them for their own purposes.

  • The most obvious method for identity thieves is hacking.  This may come in several forms.  First, hackers can go “phishing” for your information with seemingly innocuous emails asking for personal information.  Other hackers are more subtle and work by putting out software which is infected with spyware and other Trojan viruses.  These programs work under the surface of your computer and allow the hackers to collect personal information such as PINs, passwords, and credit card numbers.  Finally, you will occasionally have the “large-scale hack” where a business or institution has its website breached by hackers who then collect large amounts of data at one time.
  • Another method for identity thieves may not be so obvious.  Almost every day we hand over our credit cards to someone:  a store clerk, a hotel or airport desk attendant, a waiter at a restaurant.  These individuals may then copy down your credit card information and sell it or, if they are more technologically savvy, they may run it through a machine called a skimmer which makes a digital copy of your card and its information.
  • Skimmers are also finding their way into other areas that we usually trust:  namely, bank ATMs and gas station pay-at-the-pump terminals.  Thieves can attach a skimmer to these devices so that when you enter your card and type in the PIN, they get a digital copy of not only the card but also your personal number.  This way, they can then show up later to collect the skimmer and have access to dozens or even hundreds of credit cards that have been used on that machine in a short time period.
  • Some of the more “old-fashioned” con jobs are still around as well.  Individuals posing as telemarketers can entice individuals, particularly preying on the elderly, to turn over information such as credit card or bank account numbers as part of a service that they are supposedly offering.
  • Finally, your own front yard may be a target for identity thieves.  These individuals rifle through homeowner’s trash and mail looking for any scrap of personal data they can find.  A cancelled check, a bank statement, or any personal information thrown in the trash can cause your identity to be stolen.  The same goes for mail which might be stolen giving thieves access to bank statements, and even pre-approved credit cards.

Knowing how you are being targeted is just half the battle in stopping identity thieves.  Be sure to look for our next installment where we will discuss the ways that you can actually avoid having your identity stolen from you.

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