The numbers are staggering: according to the 2007 Identity Fraud Report, identity theft cost consumers and businesses a whopping $56.6 billion dollars.Identity theft occurs when someone steals your name, Social Security number (SSN), bank account number, or credit card to open accounts, make purchases, or commit other fraudulent crimes.The Methods They Use to Steal Your IdentityThe methods identity thieves use include low tech strategies (like going through your trash can, also known as “dumpster diving”) to highly sophisticated phishing scams that include cloned PayPal or bank websites that trick you into giving your username, password, or account number.Other ways include:
How Identity Theft Affects YouOnce someone has stolen your identity, they can use your credit cards or bank account to purchase expensive consumer goods like computers and electronics that can easily be resold for cash.They can also open and charge up new credit cards, which can be a real mess to straighten out with vendors and credit reporting agencies.Other criminal activities include taking out auto loans in your name, opening a new phone or wireless service in your name, or writing counterfeit checks to drain your bank account. Some have even used it to file for bankruptcy to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred.How to Protect Yourself and Your EmployeesNever give your personal information, Social Security number, credit card number, or bank account numbers over the phone or online unless you know for certain you are dealing with a legitimate company.Make sure your employees are given an AUP (acceptable use policy) that educates them on the dangers of phishing scams and spam e-mails designed to either trick you into giving your information or installing a virus that secretly steals the information stored on your PC without your knowledge.You can recognize a secure website, as it has an https:// at the beginning of the web address (regular web sites only have http: and no “s”) at the top of the page on which you are submitting your information.It also must have a picture of a lock in the bottom right corner of the page. If you don’t see both of these measures in place, do not submit your information.And even if you DO see this, use a credit card instead of a debit card or pay by check option because you’ll get security protection from your card’s issuer.Visa, MasterCard and American Express all have a zero liability policy. If you notify the bank of unauthorized trans-actions, you pay nothing.Shred all medical bills, financial statements, credit card applications, tax statements, or any other mail that contains confidential information about you before you throw them into the trash.Never open e-mails or attachments from e-mail addresses you are unfamiliar with, and NEVER respond to e-mails that ask you to verify your account information because your account is being closed, suspended, or charged.If you want to verify this, call the bank or the company to see if it was a legitimate e-mail.Signs That You’ve Fallen Victim to Identity Theft If you see any unexplained charges or withdrawals from your bank accounts, if you receive credit cards that you did not apply for, or if you start receiving bills or collection letters for items you have not purchased, someone may have stolen your identity.Always follow up with the business or institution to find out exactly what is causing the situation as quickly as possible. The faster you act on identity theft, the easier it will be for you to clear your name.