Identity Theft – what it is and how to avoid it

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 27.3 million people nationwide – nearly one in 10 Americans – has been victimized by identity theft in the past five years.

You can be a victim if you:

  • Hand your credit card to servers at restaurants.
  • Do not have “Check Photo ID” written in permanent ink on your credit cards.
  • Supply personal information over the Internet on non-secure pages. (Secure pages have an address that starts with “https:” and there is a little locked padlock icon at the bottom right of your screen).
  • Keep your social security number or card in your wallet or purse.
  • Give your social security number when asked on a form, even though the asker has no real need of it. (Think of doctor’s offices).
  • Have people working in your home who could pick up personal information.
  • Your home, car or office is broken into. Your purse/wallet is stolen.
  • Leave mail at your home, especially checks in payment of bills, for your mail carrier to pick up.
  • Don’t shred unwanted mail with personal information. Such as those letters approving you a a new credit card you don’t want.

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There are Four Types of Identity Theft:

  1. Credit Card, Check Fraud and Phishing
  2. Financial Identity Theft
  3. Identity Cloning
  4. Criminal Identity Theft

1. Credit Card, Check Fraud and Phishing

Credit Card

The use of your credit card or bank account information to make purchases, withdraw cash from your credit card or bank account.

Thieves can swipe credit card information in seconds using customers’ cards, and use the numbers to make purchases over the telephone or online.

Thieves get your credit card data in many ways. From a discarded copy charge slip, theft of your billfold or wallet, looking over your shoulder at an ATM machine, writing down your credit card details when you pay a restaurant check and the server takes your card away. There is even a hi-tech device that a server can put in their pocket to swipe your card and capture the details on the way to the cash register.

AVOIDING IT. Open your wallet and put all your credit cards, social security card, driving license on a photocopier. Make a copy of the details of ALL your cards and keep it somewhere safe. Make another copy, seal it in an envelope and give it to a trusted friend or family member. Report the theft of your wallet immediately and use your copies to cancel all the credit cards. Do not keep your social security card in your wallet. Maybe consider using a basic credit card rather than a Gold or Platinum one. Surely less attractive to servers. Pay cash when dining out.

Credit card theft happens at gas stations too. There was a police raid on a gas station in Cape Cod in early February 2004. The thieves, who worked at the gas station were accused of making $250,000 in purchases on customers’ cards over the only a few months.

Hi-tech has arrived at gas stations too. It’s called skimming and targets anyone who uses debit or credit cards to pay at the pump. When customers swipe their cards at the pump, a skimming device, installed by thieves just behind the panel, records all the information from the card’s magnetic strip. It records your name, address, account number. There is no way to tell if a pump’s been tampered with.

AVOIDING IT. Don’t let your credit card out of your sight. But there is apparently no way of knowing if a skimmer has been attached to a pay at the pump station. So perhaps skip the convenience and pay inside. Check your credit card statements every month, compare them to the receipts.

Check Fraud

Another favorite way used by thieves to get bank account details is just to steal your outgoing mail left in your mailbox for collection. Once they have your check details it’s easy enough to find out how much is in your bank account. All they have to do is phone the bank and say they have been given a check by you and would like to know if it will clear. They can start off with say, $1,000. If the answer is yes they can phone back, speak to someone else and try a bigger amount. And so on. The same works if a check for $1,000 won’t clear your account. They just call back and ask about a lesser amount.


This is where you receive an email supposedly from PayPal, eBay or your bank saying there is a problem and asking you to go to a their web site to verify your details. The web site you go to looks identical to the real web sites. How is this possible? Because the text in the link you get doesn’t have to agree with the place you go to.

See how easy that is? The link may SAY, but it actually goes somewhere else entirely.

How can you tell? Look in the title bar to see the ACTUAL place you have landed. Often this place will be concealed by the clever use of a code that hides the name. But you can still find it. In Internet Explorer click on View > Tools Bars > Address Bar.

Also, look at the email again. When you hold your mouse over the link, it will show the TRUE target. Which is often a number, not PayPal at all.

REMEMBER Your bank would never email you and ask you to reveal secret information. If you are unsure, call your bank and ask them.

2. Financial Identity Theft

The use of your personal data, like your social security number to get new credit cards, leasing apartments, loans, telephone service etc.

The difference between Financial Identity Theft and Credit Card and Check fraud is that with the former NEW credit cards etc. are obtained.

This happened to the author of this article. In my case a young lady that I was dating went through my wallet one night when I was asleep. Just read what happened and see how easy it was for her to get a credit card without my knowledge and without signing anything.

She already knew my birth date, now she had my social security number.

She logged onto AOL and applied for a credit card online. She put her home address as my address and ordered a Platinum Visa card in my name, plus another in her name as an authorized user. She got the cards and went shopping.

Luckily I had got suspicious of her and decided to run a credit check on myself. I checked off the credit cards they said I had against the credit cards in my wallet.

I called the credit card company and asked them to run a check on any credit cards with my social security number (the credit report does not give the full credit card number).

Over $10,000 had already been spent on this one card. I explained that it was fraud and that the card had not gone to my address. They closed the card account and sent me an affidavit of fraud.

Of course the young lady in question was dumped immediately and a police report was filed. An arrest warrant was issued but she fled the state.

My credit record was cleared and the charges removed. I cancelled all my other credit cards as well and had new ones issued, just in case the numbers had been copied down.

I was LUCKY! The card did not go to me and nor would any of the bills. Other cards could have been issued and I would not have known about it for many months until there was a whole string of late reports on my credit report. And probably someone trying to track me down to demand payment. It can take years to sort out a bad identity theft problem. People have even got driving licenses in other people’s name and then had accidents, giving the false name of course. The first thing the victim knows is when he is arrested for not showing up in court.

NOTE. It is possible to have a FRAUD ALERT put on your credit record. This means that the lender will first call your home phone number before granting credit.

Be very careful who has access to your social security number.

Check your credit report on a regular basis and make sure all the credit cards belong to you.

Check your credit card statement diligently every month. Query anything you don’t remember.

Have a low limit card specially for ordering goods on line. It makes it easy to spot fraudulent charges.

Write PHOTO ID on the back of your credit cards. Not everyone asks to see it, but it can’t hurt.

Never write down your PIN number, especially on anything that you carry with your bank card.

3. Identity Cloning

This is were someone actually takes over your identity. The imposter lives out their life using your name, your social security number and your details. one way to help stop this is to regularly check your credit report.

We recommend the following Credit Reports:

4. Criminal Identity Theft

This is where some who is accused of a crime gives your name rather than their own. When “you” don’t show up at the hearing, “you” can get arrested. This happened to my daughter in the following way: She had lent her car to a “friend”. The “friend” got stopped by the police for speeding. She claimed she did not have her driving license with her, and she gave her name as my daughters.

Of course my daughter knew nothing about this until several months later she received a summons from the court. Luckily for her she could prove with air tickets that she wasn’t even in the USA at that time. The ticket was dismissed. I’d like to say that her “friend” is still in jail, but I don’t believe the police did anything at all.