Identity theft is one of the fastest rising types of crime in the world and causes billions of dollars worth of damages each year. Identity thieves look for personal information, such as ID card information, financial information, Social Security numbers, addresses, and even driver’s license numbers.
ID theft is a serious risk and should be treated as such.
Although modern ID thieves use phishing attacks and other types of online scams to get your personal information on the Internet, many still use the old dumpster diving technique. Dumpster diving is the act of going through someone’s trash in hopes of finding food, but also sensitive documents that contain personal information about the victim and his loved ones.
Sensitive documents include financial documents, medical bills and even sheets of paper that contain your full name and address; don’t forget that expired credit cards should not be thrown into the trash. The identity thief can then use this information to steal the identity of the victim.
Are you wondering how much damage can an identity thief do? In 1999, an individual named Phillip Cummings managed to get his hands on a spreadsheet that contained usernames and passwords. After quitting his job at the software firm that accidentally allowed him access to this information, he used the data to get access to around 33,000 credit reports; he sold this information for more than 50 million dollars.
Police served an arrest warrant on Malcolm Bird and stormed his house in 2003. He was accused of possession of cocaine and spent some jail time before officers realized that he was a victim of identity theft. Fortunately for him, Malcolm Bird was not the man they were looking for.
These two real cases show just how dangerous ID theft can be. Although few people are arrested by mistake, this is nonetheless a very dangerous crime. In the US, around 7% of households – that means a whopping 8.6 million households – had a case of identity theft in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The percentage is probably higher today.
Why you should prevent ID Theft?
After learning what is ID theft, you may be wondering about the problems caused by this crime. Once the ID thief gets his hands on sensitive information, he begins to impersonate you or your loved ones. Because the Internet allows the attacker to purchase merchandise and services without interacting physically with sellers, he can order expensive items in your name. You may not be aware of the unauthorized charges on your credit card until it’s too late and the thief already picked up the merchandise.
By using information from your bills, tax returns, and other sensitive documents, the attacker can create false IDs and apply for loans and credit cards in your name. He can then withdraw your money from ATM machines and damage your credit score. By the time the bank notifies you about the outstanding debt, the attacker has already destroyed the unauthorized cards and erased all evidence.
There is an even greater risk: the thief can provide false information to police and may be able to create a criminal record for you. That’s right, police may issue an arrest warrant for you and pick you up for questioning if an ID thief has provided your information after committing a crime.
The easy way to prevent ID theft
Now that you’ve learned what is ID theft and what kind of problems it may cause, let’s see how you can protect yourself and your loved ones against it. The easiest, cheapest and most convenient way to do so is to purchase and use a paper shredder to destroy all your financial documents, medical bills and expired credit cards.
A cheap paper shredder starts at around $25 and can help you avoid thousands of dollars worth of loses. By shredding all documents that may contain sensitive information, you deny ID thieves the means to steal your identity and your money. There will be absolutely nothing for them to find in your dumpster except hundreds or thousands of paper particles. Reconstructing the original document from these tiny pieces of paper is impossible.
There are three types of paper shredders for home use: strip cut, cross cut and micro cut. Strip cut shredders cut the paper into around 40 pieces that are as long as the original sheet of paper. As you can imagine, recovering information from these pieces is not too difficult. This is why you should always choose cross cut shredders. These units cut the sheet both vertically and diagonally and create hundreds of tiny pieces of paper; recovering information from them becomes impossible. The third type, micro cut shredders, generate thousands of paper particles from a typical A4 sheet. You can’t get more security than that.
Most paper shredders can also shred expired credit cards. Remember, ID thieves can recover information from the magnetic strip of expired cards and can use it to create cards that are accepted by ATM machines. Shredding the cards protects you from this danger.
Also, you may want to shred CDs and DVDs instead of throwing them at the trash. In many cases, optical discs contain sensitive information about you or your loved ones. Many paper shredders for home use can completely destroy such discs, making the recovery of information impossible.
What to Do If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft?
The best way to check if you are a victim of ID theft is to request credit reports periodically. If you see unknown bank accounts or credit cards in the report, notify the banks immediately. Also, check the balance of your credit cards frequently. If you notice unauthorized charges on your credit cards, again, notify the bank. The bank will immediately freeze your accounts and block the cards, minimizing the damage.
The next thing you should do is notify the police and provide them with all the relevant details. Once an investigation begins, the police will look for suspicious activity and usually catch the thief when he tries to cash in on your hard-earned money. You are then in a good position to recover some, or all, of you, lose.
And the ID thief will most likely go to prison; a punishment fit for his crime.