It used to be that identity theft meant an unauthorized purchase on a credit card. But criminals have advanced alongside technology and suddenly identity theft can involve a stolen Social Security number used for filing false medical claims or applying for mortgages. When you swipe your card at the ATM, gas pump, or in the RedBox for your next video rental, how do you know there isn't a fake front added to the swiper - capturing your credit card number and pin?
You'll know when you start getting the bills and experiencing the problems associated with identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission estimates nine million Americans are victims to identity theft annually, but the most extreme identity fraud cases are rare.
For the most part, fixing a case of identity theft will involve closing one credit card account or freezing your credit if you notice a problem. If you should become the victim of extreme identity theft - where a person becomes "you" in order to open new lines of credit or pay for their medical expenses - you can experience a very lengthy clean up process to repair your credit history. It can take months, sometimes even years, to repair credit histories and scores after such fraud takes place.
Security measures are constantly being improved for your credit card accounts, bank accounts and health care records - but you can't rely on them to fully protect you from all fraud. You need to take some common sense steps to prevent identity theft.
Preventing the problem is easier than treating the problem. Review your monthly statements regularly from all of your financial accounts. If you see anything that looks suspicious, take action immediately. Most of the time you can stop identity theft in it's tracks if you take action as soon as you see an unauthorized transaction - but if you aren't reviewing your financial information monthly or even more often - chances are you'll miss it until it becomes a huge problem.
Look at your credit reports to make sure there is no errors or omissions on your report. Follow steps to fixing any errors.
Shred bank statements and medical records before disposing to prevent garbage pickers from gaining access from your important information. Don't carry your social security card in your wallet. Change online passwords frequently and don't make them easy to guess.