“A lot of times we don’t lock up our identities, and believe it or not they’re more precious than your car or your home. They’re more valuable,” said Jones, an identity theft specialist with Legal Shield, “because if someone gets a hold of your identity they can wreck your life.”
There are many different types of identity theft.
“Most identity theft issues are non-credit related,” Jones said.
Criminal or character identity theft is used when someone being arrested has no ID and provides another person’s information. This inaccurate information can lead to an innocent person erroneously having a criminal record that may not be uncovered until the identity theft victim is pulled over for something simple like a broken taillight. Jones said this actually happened to one victim.
People have also had their identities stolen through someone obtaining their Social Security number, medical records or driver’s license information.
Some have stolen another person’s Social Security number in order to get a job, Jones said. A way to check against this is checking one’s Social Security earnings (on their employee benefits statement) and making sure there is not more money listed there than there should be.
“Identity theft is the No. 1 white collar crime in America,” Jones said.
Criminals also sometimes steal minors’ identities, creating and running up credit before the child reaches the age when a credit report might be needed. Jones told of a student who applied for financial aid and found out someone had purchased a houseboat and a car in his name. The student had never seen either one.
One possible risk for identity theft comes in throwing away preapproved credit card applications without shredding them. Jones said there are documented cases of people using another person’s preapproved application to get a credit card in the person’s name. Jones said a cross-cut shredder needs to be used because with a straight shredder there is still the possibility that someone could tape the pieces back together, then make a copy and use the application.
“The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft has been the No. 1 consumer complaint for 11 consecutive years,” Jones said.
Carrying extra credit cards and unnecessary identification can also increase the risk of having one’s identity stolen. Jones said Social Security cards should not be stored in one’s wallet but in a safe place, preferably something that can be locked, at home.
“Your three times more likely to have your identity stolen than someone breaking into your house or your car,” Jones said.
Also, caution should be taken when giving out personal information. Jones said it is important to know why someone is asking for your Social Security number and how they will use it before giving it out.
He said people need to change the way they think, and be cautious in order to prevent identity theft. For Jones this includes not letting his credit card out of sight. He said in a restaurant he will either pay with cash or he will walk to the register and watch his card be swiped.
Jones said this ensures that the server does not copy the credit card number or run the card through an electronic device to store the information.
“The revenue from trafficking financial data has surpassed that of the illegal drug trade,” Jones said. “Your information is very, very valuable.”
Reviewing one’s credit report is a good way to catch credit being established by someone else in your name. Jones said everyone can get three free credit reports a year.
He said not all entities report to all of the credit bureaus. He said anything that is not accurate should be dealt with immediately. He also suggested photocopying the contents of one’s wallet, and keeping the copies in a safe place. This way if the wallet is solen a person knows what has been lost. Mailing bill payments from the post office and not from home is another way to protect personal information.