What Is Identity Theft and Why It Should Concern You

Identity theft happens when someone takes your identity and uses it to commit fraud, such as by withdrawing money from your bank account, or obtaining credit and running up bills in your name, Identity thieves can even sully your reputation or get you in legal trouble by using credit in your name to pay for such things as porn web sites. The actions of an identity thief can severely damage your credit score, hitting you with higher interest rates and making it difficult for you to gain approval for loans or credit. It may even become more difficult for you to get a decent job. Worse, you could find yourself under investigation by the police, especially if your identity has been used to commit a crime, which could be anything from a traffic violation to receiving stolen goods to accessing a child porn web site.

How can your identity get stolen? Security experts say that someone needs only your social security number, date of birth, and personal information such as your address and phone number to be able to take on your identity. Financial information, such as your bank account or credit card numbers, can also be used. When you fill in a form for such things as a credit card application or even a deposit form at your bank, you may be providing information that can be used in identity fraud. You should never carelessly toss out such documents and forms--be sure to shred them or cross-cut them into pieces before disposal. It is common for identity thieves to go “dumpster diving” or searching through someone else’s trash to obtain personal information.

You are also vulnerable to identity theft on the Internet. The information you type in web forms is often saved in your computer memory, and someone with the technical skills may be able to get it. You should never use a public-access computer, such as a web café terminal, to check your bank account online or provide important personal information. If you use a public terminal to check your email or MySpace, you should always log out of your account afterwards. Never leave your computer at home or work unprotected and accessible to others. Never use a single password for different online accounts, including your email, bank account, online store accounts, and memberships on sites like eBay and PayPal.