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Identity Theft - How To Protect Yourself

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Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, costing victims over $5 billion annually. Identity theft occurs when someone else uses your personal information without your knowledge or permission to obtain credit cards, get services, obtain loans and mortgages, and commit other types of fraudulent or criminal acts, in your name, leaving you responsible for the consequences.

If your identity is stolen, you may spend months or even years clearing up the damage thieves have caused to your reputation and credit record. During this time, you may lose job opportunities and be refused loans for education, housing, or a car. Although you may never have committed a crime, been late with a payment, or abused your credit, you are the one who would suffer severe financial consequences as a result of identity theft. As a student or recent graduate, being a victim of identity theft jeopardizes your financial future just as you are beginning to establish your credit record.

Identity theft is a federal crime. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 made it a federal crime when anyone “knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of the Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.”

The first step to prevent identity theft is awareness of how and when you use your personal information. By keeping close tabs on your personal information, you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim.

One of the most important things you can do is to keep close tabs on your Social Security number. If somebody gets a hold of your Social Security number, they could assume your identity for all kinds of purposes and cause you all kinds of grief. Having someone’s name and Social Security number makes it easy to commit identity theft.

Trying to minimize the use of your Social Security number on campus may be difficult. Many colleges use Social Security numbers as student ID numbers. It is very common to be asked for this ID just about everywhere – bookstores, cafeterias, rec centers. 50% of students report that they’ve had professors post grades by Social Security number or request that a Social Security number be placed on term papers. At most colleges, the Social Security number is the universal identifier.

The best advice for students is to be as stingy with their Social Security numbers as they possibly can. If possible, request a randomly generated student ID number instead. And if you can’t get the school to give you a new student ID number, approach individual professors about using a random number on term papers and test postings.

If your Social Security number is on your student ID, make sure you know where it is at all times. Be careful not to leave your ID lying around. Memorize your Social Security number so you will not be required to present it and risk losing it or forgetting it somewhere.

Before giving anyone your Social Security number, ask why it’s needed. When a picture ID is required, use your driver’s license instead. Do not have your Social Security number printed on your checks.

Pre-approved credit card offers flood student mailboxes on a regular basis. 49% of college students receive credit card applications on a daily or weekly basis. Almost 30% of students throw out these card applications without destroying them. Start making it a habit to destroy these offers. Do not toss them aside and forget about them. It is best to shred them or burn them.

When you see credit card companies soliciting on campus, pass by their tables. The free t-shirt is not worth the risk. If you want a t-shirt, go buy one.

Watch applying for credit cards on the Web. There are plenty of fraudulent web sites looking to rip you off. Check to see if the Web site is connected to a legitimate credit card company before applying. Never give personal or financial information over the phone or Internet unless you initiated the contact.

Monitor your credit card bills carefully. Do you see charges that you didn’t make? If so, contact your credit card company immediately.

Make sure to pick up your mail promptly and stop it if you’re going to be away. Don’t leave mail lying around, even in your dorm room. There is a lot of opportunity for someone to pick up mail that was meant for someone else. A recent national survey found that 48% of students stated that they keep personal financial information in their dormitory room. 31% said their room or a room in their building had been burglarized. This risks both their personal information and belongings to theft.

Credit reporting agencies make billions of dollars each year by selling your information to credit card companies. You may choose to opt out. To have your name removed from the lists, call (888) 5-OPT-OUT.

Technology has contributed to identity theft. When transacting business on the web, read a site’s privacy policy about sharing your information. If you’re uncomfortable with the policy, don’t do business there. If you don’t feel safe buying something online, call in your order.

Use a firewall program on your computer. This is especially important if you leave your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. Delete cookies off your computer on a regular basis. Cookies create a profile of where you go on the Internet.

Be careful with passwords. Do not record them where they can be found. Don’t use your date of birth for your password.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, with 900,000 new victims each year. In today’s information age, nobody’s immune. Remember, no one can protect you from identity theft but you. If you are a victim of identity theft, you face an arduous task of correcting the situation. Make sure to file a police report. Talk quickly to credit card companies. Not only will you not have to pay the huge bills run up in your name, but the companies may forgive the $50 in unauthorized charges cardholders are required to pay when someone steals their cards. You may also be able to deduct your losses from fraud on your taxes according to the 165E federal tax code.

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