Damon Carr, for the New Pittsburgh Courier

Scripture says that a good name is more desirable than riches (Proverbs 22:1).

Obviously, the “Forget the dog, beware of the master” sign, surveillance cameras, and the various alarm systems we’ve purchased for our most valuable possessions have caused thieves to go in a new direction. The fastest growing crime in America is identity theft. Many criminals have discovered that it is less risky, and in many cases more profitable, to steal your personal information than to commit a strong-arm robbery, break-in, or steal your car. Capital One isn’t the only character wondering, “What’s in your wallet?”

As we continue to move closer and closer to a cashless society – choosing between credit cards, debit cards, PayPal, Cash App and Venmo, protecting yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft should be a top priority.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the act of stealing another person’s identity and using the stolen identity for illegal purposes. Victims report that thieves have used their personal information to steal money from their bank accounts, open new credit card accounts, open new cell phone accounts, obtain new car loans and make various other unauthorized purchases on existing credit cards. There have been reported cases of identity thieves filing for bankruptcy under the victim’s name and falsely using the victim’s name when apprehended. For the record, parents who create separate accounts in the name of their spouse and children without their consent, especially minor children, are guilty of identity theft.

A thief only needs four pieces of information to steal an identity:

  • Full name
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • Home address

The good news is that if you are a victim of identity theft, you are not personally liable for any fraudulent activity. Federal law limits liability to $50 for credit cards and $500 for debit cards. Both Visa and Mastercard now offer zero liability protection for credit and debit cards with their logos. It is important that you report fraud as soon as you become aware of it.

This does not mean that your good name and reputation will be restored overnight. Recovery of lost money is least of all for the victims. Federal law will protect you from fraud. With the damage done to your credit as a result of identity theft, you may find yourself frustrated with higher insurance rates, higher interest rates, and frequent harassing phone calls from collection agencies. Restoring your good name, reputation, and credit often takes months of frustrating phone calls, letters, and the help of an aggressive, expensive attorney. The average victim of ID theft spends 607 hours trying to resolve their case, spending $1,495 out of pocket.

How do thieves get your information?

  • Stolen or lost wallet, checkbook or credit card
  • “Dump diving” or digging through your trash for personal information
  • Personal information is stolen from your mailbox before you receive your mail
  • Thieves submit change-of-address cards to have the victim’s mail sent to another location, then use the mail to obtain the documents needed to impersonate the victim
  • Unscrupulous employees who have access to personal documents or other identifying information have been known to pass that information on to thieves or use the information themselves to commit this fraud.
  • Phishing, or a form of online fraud that aims to steal valuable information such as credit cards, social security numbers, user IDs and passwords
  • “Smishing,” the fraudulent practice of sending text messages purporting to be from reputable companies to trick people into revealing personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers

How to protect yourself?

  • Give your personal information only to the people and companies you contact.
  • Shred all documents containing personal information before throwing them away.
  • Carry your social security card, birth certificate, driver’s license, debit cards and credit cards as needed.
  • Store all personal information at home in a fireproof and waterproof safe.
  • Make sure you are dealing with a secure web page before providing personal information over the Internet.
  • Review your credit report annually.

What to do if you are a victim?

  • Notify all creditors and financial institutions immediately. They should tell you to close all accounts used in the scam. Report the crime to your local police immediately. If your loss is $1,000 or more, you can also contact your local FBI office.
  • Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-IDTHEFT)
  • Contact the anti-fraud departments of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
  • Request and carefully read a copy of your credit report for any other false accounts or information.

There’s identity theft insurance and monitoring services that can be purchased for as little as $7 a month. When you buy this product, make sure it covers three main things: It helps protect you from identity theft. If you’re a victim, it covers you for out-of-pocket expenses of up to $20,000 or more. More importantly, if you are a victim, you will have a personal representative who will do whatever it takes to restore your good name and reputation.

Criminals convicted of identity theft can face up to 15 years in prison plus fines.

(Damon Carr, Money Coach can be reached @ 412-216-1013 or visit his website @ www.damonmoneycoach.com)

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