“When it comes to identity theft, most people assume that it won’t happen to them, but you can never be sure,” said Mike Flaherty, VP-Information Technology at Seneca Federal Savings and Loan Association. He continued, “This crime is a growing problem and it is time to get educated about it.”
What exactly is identity theft? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. The FTC estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft as the crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make—or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.
Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record while plans to purchase a new home or car are put on hold. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
“Many people think they could not fall victim to this type of crime but what they really need to consider is how thieves steal an identity,” said Flaherty. Identity thieves often start with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold. A variety of methods are used to get hold of your most precious information, including dumpster diving where trash is rummaged through while looking for bills or other papers with your personal information on it, skimming where they steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card, phishing where they pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information, changing your address where they divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form unbeknownst to you, good old-fashioned stealing of wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information, or even ‘pretexting’ where they use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.