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Have You Ever Been a Victim of Identity Theft?

You look at your credit card statement. There’s a charge for about $700 from a merchant you’re not familiar with.

“Honey, did you buy something from so and so for $700 last month?”
“Why no, dear, I would never spend that much without talking it over with you first.”
“Hmmm; I wonder where that charge came from, then?”
“I know! You can call the phone number listed for the merchant on the statement!”
“That’s a great idea!”

The merchant confirms that the charge was made. It was a telephone order, and the merchant confirmed the ZIP code and security code on the back of the card to verify that the purchaser actually possessed the card.

You call the bank and explain the situation. The bank refunds the $700, cancels the card immediately, and sends you a new card with a new number.

Was I a Victim of Identity Theft?

This is the ideal situation of what happens when your credit card is stolen [1]. This is what happened to me a few years ago. Some banks are a little less helpful in situations like this, but generally speaking, I think most will do what they can to resolve the issue.

Was I a victim of identity theft? I don’t think so. To me, someone simply got hold of my card information, used it for a large purchase, and then my bank and I resolved the situation. Case closed. My social security number was not compromised, there’s no one applying for credit cards [2] pretending to be me, and no other aspect of my financial identity has been taken.

I personally don’t think that identity theft [3] is as common as most statistics show. I generally agree with statistics that come from reputable sources, but I just can’t see how the average person, using simple techniques, can’t prevent this. Granted, there are crackers (as a computer person, I prefer this word to “hackers” as hackers are not criminals, in the original sense of the word) out there that exploit commercial web site databases and steal tons of personal information. By law, when these incidents happen, the company must contact all of their customers and let them know. I’ve received a few of these letters over the years, but again, I’ve never had any problem with identity theft.

Likewise, I don’t know that I believe there are many “dumpster diver” identity thieves; I find it unlikely that this is an efficient use of a potential identity thief’s time.

Identity Theft Prevention

I offer the following steps to help prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • If you are concerned about the garbage identity thief, buy a shredder [4]. Keep it next to your workspace area for going through your mail. Shred credit card offers, bank statements that you can review electronically, and anything else that you would normally throw away, that may have personal information on it.
  • Keep your social security number secret. Unless you have a valid reason to carry it somewhere, keep it in your home in a secure location.
  • When sending out mail with personal information in it, drop it in a “blue box” instead of your own mailbox.
  • Log on to your credit card websites regularly, just to make sure there are no charges that look suspicious.
  • Don’t give personal information to anyone over the phone, unless it is a call that you initiated.

This is what I do. It has worked for me for years.

Have you been a victim of identity theft? What methods do you use to prevent identity theft [3]?

More Information on Identity Theft

You can also sign up for identity theft services, like LifeLock [8] or Trusted ID [9], which offers a 14 day free trial. However, there is a charge after the first 14 days to continue the service.