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Identity Theft and How to Prevent It

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/26/2007 | Arts and Culture

Identity theft has become a major problem in today's electronic cash and Internet shopping world. It seems that whenever banking and online security advances to keep out the baddies they go and improve the types and variety of their scams. Sometimes however it is not the breaching of electronic security but the complacency and misplaced trust of the individual that allows these criminals to get away with your money.

While the loss of the initial money taken from your bank accounts or credit cards is enough of a shock what is often even worse is the ongoing problems you may face long after the actual crime. Things such as your credit history will have a record of unpaid bills or bad credit associated with the theft that can be far harder to overcome and create ongoing problems and stress.

Obviously the best way to combat identity theft or other such scams is prevention. By being vigilant regarding transactions made on your credit cards or bank accounts, and taking the necessary action quickly you can limit your losses if you notice any fraudulent transactions. If you do notice any questionable transactions on your accounts then there are a few steps to take to limit your losses such as:

1) Notify your bank or credit card company's fraud department immediately that there are suspicious transactions on your account. You may be liable for the cost of fraudulent transactions on your account until the time you notify your bank so vigilance is the key, however many credit cards have a 50 maximum liability.

2) If necessary close your accounts and open new ones with completely new passwords etc. Request that the accounts be closed via phone initially and then in person to ensure that your request has been acted upon.

3) Contact the main credit reference agencies (such as Equifax, Transunion and Experian) and place a fraud alert on your file. This will help to prevent further fraud by the criminals who have your information.

4) Report the fraud to the police who will issue you with a crime number. This number is required to make any claims against insurance etc.

5) Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and report the details of the fraud. This helps the police to keep up with any new methods being used by criminals to commit ID theft and thus helps to stamp it out.

Apart from the steps to take if you are a victim of ID theft there are some simple measures to take to help prevent it in the first place. Simple things such as never carrying your PIN number in your wallet or purse with the card are too often forgotten giving criminals easy access to your cash should you lose your wallet. Also, never ever respond to emails requesting you to log into your bank account from a link within the email that appear to be from your bank. This type of account password harvesting is known as Phishing and catches more people that it should by gaining their account details and then clearing the account of all funds before the owner realizes it.

Identity theft and other types of fraud are all too common and will always be a danger to the electronic banking system we have today. Unfortunately that danger is the price we pay for convenience and ready access to our funds or credit. Despite these risks however if you remain vigilant and take some common sense measures to protect yourself from this type of fraud and also act quickly if you do become a victim then you can limit your losses and sometimes escape relatively unscathed. Prevention and vigilance are the keys to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud so follow these steps and you should be as safe as houses.