How safe are you?
by Lenny Roberts
Law enforcement officials say identity theft is one of the
fastest growing crimes in the United States, and Ojai residents
are far from immune.
In this report, we'll examine the ways it occurs, how you can
lessen the odds of becoming a victim, what to do if you suspect
that someone is using your identity, and how much financial responsibility
is yours if you are a victim.
We'll also talk with local victims who will explain how they
Surprisingly, Internet credit card transactions with reputable
companies and paying bills online through recognized financial
institutions are not generally the ways thieves target their
victims because of a sophisticated encryption process which scrambles
information sent from your home computer to secure servers at
the other end. Instead, many thieves rely on low-tech methods
by simply calling your credit card issuer pretending to be you
and requesting a change in the mailing address on your credit
card account if they have your name, date of birth and Social
Security number. When a credit card is used and the bills aren't
paid because they're being sent to the new address, you will
not immediately realize there's a problem. They can also establish
cellular phone service or worse, open a bank account in your
name and write bad checks on that account.
But how easily are Social Security numbers and other personal
A lost or stolen wallet or purse is a gold mine of information
for the identity thief, that, according to the Federal Trade
Commission, could create an identity crisis that can take months
to detect and even longer to unravel.
Another way is by going through you trash in search of canceled
checks, or credit card and bank statements and other receipts,
either curbside or at the trash recycling center. For example,
if you receive applications for pre-approved credit cards in
the mail, but discard them without shredding the enclosed materials,
criminals may retrieve them and activate the cards for their
use without your knowledge.
Simply entrusting your credit card to a waitperson at your favorite
restaurant can be costly if he or she copies the number with
If someone calls your home requesting "verification"
of a credit card account, do not give them any information. Banks
already know who you are and what information is on the card
or you wouldn't have the card in the first place.
Thieves have also been known to view ATM machines or automated
payment pumps at gas stations with binoculars from a distance
to obtain personal identification or PIN numbers. Always cover
the keypad with your other hand and never leave the transaction
receipt behind. And never respond to unsolicited e-mail or spam
that requests any personal information.
In short, the best way to minimize the risk of identity theft
is to know who has access to your private information.
Common sense best defense
Identity victims blindsided
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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