Identity theft occurs when someone uses your identifying information (e.g., your name, Social Security number, or credit card information) without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Most do not know their identity has been stolen until they view their credit statements or pull their credit reports. In some cases, victims are unaware until contacted by debt collectors. Criminals have been known to rent apartments, obtain credit and credit cards, and even open telephone accounts and apartment rentals with stolen information.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
- Dumpster diving: Individuals rummaging through trash in search of bills or other documents that contain personal information.
- Skimming: Obtaining debit/credit card numbers through the use of special storage devices while processing a transaction.
- Phishing: Individuals pretending to be a financial institution or company and use pop-up ads or spam to extract personal information via the Internet.
- Change of address: Individuals can divert your personal information to another address by completing a change of address form obtained from the post office.
- Common theft: Stealing wallets, purses, or mail to obtain bank or credit card information.
- Pretexting: Information obtained through fraudulent means and sold to other individuals.
Phishing is a high-tech variation of an old scam that tricks people into providing a malicious person with information such as their social security number, credit card numbers, passwords, or bank account information.
Tips for a “Spoof-Proof Life”
- Be suspicious of emails that don’t greet you by name.
- Don’t reply to email or pop-up messages asking for personal or financial information.
- Don’t send personal or financial information via email.
- Don’t open attachments from unknown senders.
- Look for “https:” in the URLs of sites when you are shopping online. The “s” stands for “secure.”
- If you see an “@” symbol, it is probably a phishing site.
- Maintain up-to-date firewalls and security patches on your computer.
- Review credit card and bank statements to check for unauthorized charges.
- Forward phishing emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If your information is compromised, get a fraud alert placed on your credit report and visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website.
Spyware is software installed on your computer without your consent to monitor or control your computer use.
Clues that spyware is on a computer may include:
- A barrage of pop-ups.
- A browser that takes you to sites you don’t want.
- Unexpected toolbars or icons on your computer screen.
- Keys that don’t work.
- Random error messages.
- Sluggish performance when operating programs or saving files.
Tips to lowering your risk of spyware infection
- Update your operating system and web browser software.
- Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
- Download free software only from sites you know and trust.
- Don't click on links inside pop-ups.
- Don't click on links in spam or pop-ups that claim to offer anti-spyware software.