Protect yourself from identity theft

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rajesh Mathew
  • Chief of Legal Assistance, 42nd Air Base Wing
"But he that filches from me my good name / Robs me of that which not enriches him / And makes me poor indeed."
- Shakespeare, Othello, Act III. Scene 3

Identity theft is a term that refers to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else for their use, your personal data, especially your social security number, your bank account or credit card details, and other valuable identifying data, can be used, if they fall into the wrong hands, by the culprit to personally profit at your expense. Most commonly, unauthorized persons take funds out of your bank account or use your credit card, or, in the worst cases, take over your identity altogether, running up vast debts and committing crimes while using your name.

Many people do not realize how easily criminals can obtain our personal data without having to break into our homes. For example, most of us, when we deal with our creditors, such as banks or credit card companies, call them while we are out in a public place and we may not even realize that everybody around us can listen to every word we say, including our social security number or passwords we may openly divulge while we are in the process of proving our identity to the person on the other side of the line. With enough identifying information about an individual, a criminal can take over that individual's identity to conduct a wide range of crimes, for example, false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, or obtain consumer goods.

To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, there are some basic steps one can take.

· First and foremost, be careful about giving out your personal information to others unless you have a reason to trust them.

· Make sure you shred all bank statements or receipts with account numbers or credit card numbers printed on them in full before you discard these items.

· Check your financial information regularly, and look for what should be there and what shouldn't.

· Ask periodically for a copy of your credit report. Your credit report should list all bank and financial accounts under your name, and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used any accounts in your name.

· Maintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts.

· Moreover, nowadays, in the age of internet shopping and banking, we give out most of our personal information through keystrokes into the world-wide-web. Computer savvy criminals on the Web prey on unsuspecting online consumers and use your personal information for their financial gain.

· It is a good practice to ensure that you only shop at trusted, legitimate websites and avoid saving your credit card and/or debit card information in your online retail accounts. If you do save your card information in those accounts, your personal liability in case someone compromises your credit card is significantly more limited than if your debit card was compromised.

· If you use direct debit from your bank account or a debit card, your personal liability frequently is the full balance of your account. It is also a good practice to regularly change your passwords for all your online accounts and not to use easily identifiable passwords.

If you think you've become a victim of identity theft or fraud, act immediately to minimize the damage to your personal funds and financial accounts. Contact all creditors with whom your name or identifying data have been fraudulently used. Contact all financial institutions where you have accounts that an identity thief has taken over or that have been created in your name but without your knowledge. You may need to cancel those accounts, place stop-payment orders on any outstanding checks that may not have cleared, and change your ATM card, account, and PIN number.

For more information and legal assistance on this topic, please contact the Legal Office at 953-2786 and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys. Your legal assistance attorney can answer many questions and assist you with these matters.