There are many different facets to our individual identities. However, someone can steal your identity with just your name, address, social security number, bank account or credit card. Unfortunately, identity theft is one of the fastest-growing white collar crimes both nationally and in North Carolina.
Burlington police detective R. P. Ingram characterizes identity theft as a "great" crime because it is safer for the criminal, as there is no direct contact with the victim.
Every year there are about 10 million victims of identity theft nationally; more than 300,000 of those victims are from North Carolina. The state of North Carolina ranks 21st in the county for the number of identity theft cases reported. Further, the North Carolina Department of Justice reports that Salisbury, Dunn, Durham and Thomasville-Lexington are listed in the top 50 metropolitan areas for identity theft cases.
Even though identity theft is widespread, you can still take precautions to safeguard yourself against having your identity stolen. The most important precautions: limit the amount of information that is accessible and monitor your accounts.
For example, Ingram recommends that you do not carry all of your credit cards or your Social Security card on your person. He also suggests that you do not carry around old driver's licenses in your wallet or write your pin numbers on the back of debit cards.
If a thief obtains your bank account information, he or she could buy blank checks. When ordering new checks from your bank, take the time to go to the bank and pick them up rather than having them sent to your house to avoid theft. Monitor your checking and savings accounts regularly.
Ingram also stresses the importance of checking your credit report every six months so you can flag unfamiliar activity on your accounts. This will make it easier to clean up your credit once identity theft is discovered.
Also, use caution when making purchases on the internet. Try to limit your purchases to ones from large online retailers with secure websites. Likewise, be sure to shred any convenience checks sent out by credit card companies and any documents that contain your personal information. Do not just throw them in the garbage to be found by dumpster-diving thieves.
Finally, if you should find yourself a victim of identity theft, contact the police department, your credit card companies, the bank, the Social Security Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. Also, be aware that the process of cleaning up your credit will be your personal responsibility. The best tactic is to avoid identity theft altogether by making a conscious effort to protect yourself.
Source: TheTimesNews.com "Identity theft - a growing problem but preventable" 8/12/10