Just who commits identity theft and why do they do it? While some identity thieves are skilled computer hackers that sell the information on the black market, other's can gain your sensitive information in less technical ways. Find out how these people operate and what you can do to protect yourself from identity fraud.
Just who are identity thieves? Everybody has heard of the horrible damage they can cause to individuals and their peace of mind, but who exactly are they?
Most people may imagine a highly-sophisticated criminal hacking networks to gain your credit card information, then using high-tech devices to forge cards and id cards with your name to trick financial institutions into lending them money. In fact, some high-profile identity theft rings have done just that. However, in the vast majority of cases, the thief who is forging your signature somewhere is not who you think it is.
To know a thief is to know what they want. Sometimes it is just for a quick buck. Others use their ill-gotten information to turn on utilities or get approval for car and home loans. Still others, for whatever reason, can't qualify for government benefits or U.S. citizenship on their own. That's where you come in. You have a whole new identity for them to exploit, and they won't hesitate to do so.
Here is a brief overview of the different types of identity thieves, and what you can do to protect yourself from them.
It's sad but true: you're most likely to have your identity stolen by someone you know, be it a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker. Why on earth would someone steal the identity of an acquaintance? Sometimes it's just easier that way. People who know you also know your routines, where you keep your personal documents, mail, and computer files. If a family member also bears a physical resemblance to you and knows how to imitate your signature, they can do all sorts of damage through check and credit card fraud.
To be on the safe side, never let anyone borrow your credit or debit cards. Don't give out your PIN or Social Security number over the phone while others are within listening range. Password-protect and lock your computer when you're away from your workstation. At work and at home, invest in a secure mailbox and keep your personally identifying documents locked away somewhere safe.
These are the people who call or write to you out of the blue. You've never heard of them, but they're asking you for money. Of course, they're only doing so for your ultimate benefit ? by wiring them a processing fee, you'll be able to claim millions of dollars from a forgotten inheritance, unclaimed government funds, or a foreign lottery. The catch? All these scammers really want is your cooperation. Then they'll come into some money themselves, courtesy of you.
Never respond to these types of e-mails, no matter how legitimate they appear. Advance fee scams have been around for many years, and the only people who profit from them are the crooks. You could also be approached by phone, postal mail, text, or on social networking sites. The scammers always sound sincere. That's because they want to reel you in and keep you paying for money you'll never receive.
Scammers of this variety resort to trickery to gain access to your information. They call or e-mail their victims, pretending to be someone from a well-known company or institution, like the IRS. They spin a convincing yarn about how someone has tried to access your account, or how they can't process your tax return until you verify some personal information.
But guess what? That information will only be used to steal your identity and your money. Never click on links in the e-mails you receive, even if they look 100% official. Instead, manually type in the company's URL and log in that way. If a scammer calls on the phone, take down the number they called from. Then make a phone call of your own to the company's official number. Then you'll know if you received a call from a concerned representative, or from an imposter.
This is a broad category: identity thieves who take your information directly, without the use of e-mail or telephone schemes. These are the people who will dig through your garbage, hack into your home network, or simply steal your purse or wallet. Skimmers also fall into this category. They swipe credit and debit cards through hand-held devices that ?skim? the numbers. This type of theft can be carried out in a matter of seconds, in plain sight.
Common sense measures will prevent most of these crimes. Always keep your personal belongings secure. Never carry around your Social Security card, and bring only the credit cards you need. Invest in a good anti-virus program with a firewall for your computers. Skimming is harder to prevent, since we routinely hand over our cards to cashiers, waiters, and gas store attendants. To safeguard your finances, keep careful track of your accounts and report any suspicious activity at once.
There are lots of identity thieves out there. Some do it for the thrill, others out of desperation. They all do it for profit. By knowing your enemies and how they operate, you can take steps to keep your identity safe and secure.
Article contributed by Creditidentitysafe. Learn about identity theft, scams, and tips on how to prevent becoming a victim. Compare credit monitoring plans for the best protection.
Now that you understand who commits identity theft, read on for more information on how to protect yourself from identity fraud: