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How to protect yourself from identity theft

(BPT) – Identity theft occurs more frequently in the United States than people want to believe. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, identity theft and identity fraud are referred to as “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception for economic gain.”

The Federal Trade Commission compiles a report every year for identity theft complaints in the United States. These complaints increased more than 78 percent between 2009 and 2011. With identity theft becoming an increasing problem, Professor Duanne J. Thompson, the acting program chair of Criminal Justice at Argosy University, Atlanta, offers some advice for consumers to take in order to protect themselves from identity theft:

  1. Protect your identity like you would protect your house.
  2. Don’t give out sensitive information such as social security information. In most states it is illegal for a business to ask for your social security number for transactions.
  3. If purchasing on the Web, make sure you know who you are buying from and that the site is secure.
  4. Don’t fall for phishing scams. Legitimate websites will never ask for your password or account information. If in doubt contact the vendor before you send your information.

Thompson also says that consumers should be aware that they have a right to have one free credit report from every credit clearing house, such as Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, at least once a year. In some states, consumers are allowed a free credit report at least twice a year. Consumers should look at the information from their reports and ensure that the information is correct and accurate. They should look specifically at each credit statement every month for suspicious fraudulent activity.

The bigger question is what a consumer should do if they find themselves victims of identity theft. Thompson suggests to first notify your credit vendor that your card has been compromised and that there is an individual acting as you. Consumers should then call their local police department and file a report. Afterward, gather as much information as possible about your accounts and all transactions to help aid the investigator in the case. Once the police report is obtained, file an identity theft claim with all three credit clearing houses (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). All three credit clearing houses will require a copy of the local police report and all the information you have supporting the theft.

With the rise of online trends such as social media and online banking, consumers must be more vigilant about their identity as these trends lead to more and more avenues for identity theft criminals. The best way a consumer can protect their identity to simply be smart and be aware of their financial records.