Identity Theft

Identity Theft

A few years ago, I went online to buy an expensive camera at eBay. After locating the model I wanted at a bargain price from a reputable vendor, I emailed the seller, "Bob," to ask about alternate payment options. His ad stated that he accepted cash by wire only, but I wanted to use a middleman for the transaction for my security (see Online Shopping Tips ). In his reassuring email reply, the seller said he preferred to use a wire service to transfer money because they were so fast and reliable.

Minutes later, I learned that I had been communicating with an identity thief. I received another email, written in a panic but from the same address, warning me to buy nothing from the auction. It was a farce, no cameras were for sale just a thief waiting for my cash. The real Bob, the author of the warning email, was floored that he had become a victim of identity theft. He'd stumbled onto the thief accidentally after they both signed into his email account simultaneously. After a few confusing moments, he figured out that his online identity was being snatched before his eyes. Bob's head cleared and he began firing off warning emails to everyone who'd communicated with the charlatan using his good name.

When you think of identity theft, you typically visualize crooks swiping credit cards, picture IDs and other valuables from stolen handbags and wallets. But identify theft has become far more sophisticated. Thieves know a prime opportunity when they see it-a good credit rating waiting to be exploited is only the beginning. A stellar reputation at an online auction house has tremendous potential when it comes to ripping-off a lot of people quickly. The speed, anonymously and high-volume offered by online transactions is a tempting target for thieves.

Bob was incredibly lucky. He caught the identity thief before loosing his reputation. Bob was able to change his email password, but he wasn't as lucky with his eBay account. After communicating the trouble to the eBay's fraud department, though, the fake auction was quickly cancelled and investigators jumped in.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) surveyed consumers to find the extent of identity theft in the nation. They learned that 27.3 million Americans have fallen victim to identity theft in the past five years. Over one third 10 million people had their identity stolen in the past year alone. Protecting your identifying information is not an overreaction, but necessary preventative maintenance in our times.

Identity Theft isn't Just Credit Card Theft

A few years ago, I went online to buy an expensive camera at eBay. After locating the model I wanted at a bargain price from a reputable vendor, I emailed the seller, "Bob," to ask about alternate payment options. His ad stated that he accepted cash by wire only, but I wanted to use a middleman for the transaction for my security (see Online Shopping Tips ). In his reassuring email reply, the seller said he preferred to use a wire service to transfer money because they were so fast and reliable.

Minutes later, I learned that I had been communicating with an identity thief. I received another email, written in a panic but from the same address, warning me to buy nothing from the auction. It was a farce, no cameras were for sale just a thief waiting for my cash. The real Bob, the author of the warning email, was floored that he had become a victim of identity theft. He'd stumbled onto the thief accidentally after they both signed into his email account simultaneously. After a few confusing moments, he figured out that his online identity was being snatched before his eyes. Bob's head cleared and he began firing off warning emails to everyone who'd communicated with the charlatan using his good name.

When you think of identity theft, you typically visualize crooks swiping credit cards, picture IDs and other valuables from stolen handbags and wallets. But identify theft has become far more sophisticated. Thieves know a prime opportunity when they see it-a good credit rating waiting to be exploited is only the beginning. A stellar reputation at an online auction house has tremendous potential when it comes to ripping-off a lot of people quickly. The speed, anonymously and high-volume offered by online transactions is a tempting target for thieves.

Bob was incredibly lucky. He caught the identity thief before loosing his reputation. Bob was able to change his email password, but he wasn't as lucky with his eBay account. After communicating the trouble to the eBay's fraud department, though, the fake auction was quickly cancelled and investigators jumped in.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) surveyed consumers to find the extent of identity theft in the nation. They learned that 27.3 million Americans have fallen victim to identity theft in the past five years. Over one third 10 million people had their identity stolen in the past year alone. Protecting your identifying information is not an overreaction, but necessary preventative maintenance in our times.

Identity Theft Protection at Home

Be aware that identity theft can happen to anyone, anywhere.

Protect your identity with vigilance. Cross-cut shred documents that contain account numbers, your social security number, even your signature. Shield your hand when entering you PIN into an ATM.

Pick up your mail shortly after it's delivered, and don't leave sensitive outgoing mail (checks for payments, credit applications) in your mailbox mail these at the post office. Most mail theft occurs at night.

Be aware of late incoming mail particularly missing account statements. Some identity thieves apply for an individual change of address (instead of an entire household) so that they can receive private information without rousing suspicion.

Keep on top of your finances so that you can detect unusual activity quickly.

Identity Theft Protection Online

Make your passwords challenging, and make each one different. (Bob lost his two accounts to a thief because he used an identical, simple password for both. The thief broke in using password-hacking software.) Use a combination of letters, numbers, and random capitalization, and make your passwords at least 8 characters long. Keep copies in a secure location (not a computer file).

Opt out when your computer asks if you'd like your online passwords remembered. These are stored in a file that can be accessed by a skilled identity thief.

Don't send any private information through email or over the internet unless you are communicating with a vendor that you trust over a secured website (128-bit encryption). To compare privacy software features and read product reviews, see our Privacy Software Review.

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