Simply put, Identity Theft is when a critter takes the personal information of a victim, and then uses the information for personal gain, while letting the victim deal with the results.
An example would be the critter who obtains a credit card in the name of a victim, and then maxes the card purchasing goods and services. When the card hits its limit, the critter simply disposes of it, leaving the innocent victim to face the credit card company and the defrauded entities.
This crime is practically the Holy Trinity for critters -- it's: 1) High profit; 2) Low exertion; and 3) Bloody difficult to catch and prosecute.
So ... what can you do to avoid the hell that is Identity Theft?
A critter can't steal your identity if they don't have the opportunity to do so.
I will tell you there are times when you have no control over how vulnerable your identity is to theft. There can be -- and have been -- critters employed at places, offices, and agencies that handle identity as a matter of routine.
It is difficult -- if not impossible -- for you to prevent the bank from hiring someone who may be sneaking account details out the door.
The good news is that critters who use their place of employment as a means of stealing identity are somewhat easier to catch and prosecute.
Do note that I said "somewhat". ID theft in any form is a pain-in-the-arse for investigators.
Most ID theft occurs when the victim could have prevented the critter from gaining the necessary information. These particular events are much harder to catch and prosecute and are what I would like to opine upon this day.
Buy a shredder. Once you have a shredder, anything that: 1) Is paper; 2) Has your name or any other personal information on board; 3) And is being thrown away ...
... Goes through the shredder first. Including -- especially -- junk mail.
If a critter can't read your personal data, he can't steal your personal data.
Get yourself a locking mail box. The old Mayberry sheet-metal mailbox:
Is no longer acceptable.
In 1996, I was on patrol in a village north of town at the same time as the local USPS mail-person was making the morning rounds. When I saw a man walk to a mail-box, open it up and remove the contents, I figured it was Morning In Small Town America.
When I saw the same man walk up to a mail-box three houses down, open it up and reach for the contents, I decided I ought to have a talk with him.
Unfortunately, the critter saw the brake-lights light up on my cruiser and took off like a striped-arsed ape. I never did catch the critter, but I'm certain that I stopped an ID theft at the very least.
If a critter can just reach into your mailbox and grab your personal data, you can bet one of them will do just that.
My personal preference is a P.O. box, either at the Post Office or at one of the private mail centres. Having my mail delivered to a location away from my home gives me an added layer of security. However, I realize that some people need their mail delivered at (or near) their home.
If this is the case, consider a locking mailbox or a locking insert for your current mailbox.
Do you write cheques? If so, take this opportunity -- now -- to examine one of your personal cheques. How much information do you have in that upper left-hand corner, and is it all really necessary?
I was in Target the other day, in line behind a woman paying for her purchases with a cheque that had her Social Security Number, her drivers license number, her home and cell-phone numbers and her date of birth -- all in the upper left-hand corner of that cheque.
When I asked her why, in God's name, she had all that on a cheque, she answered that all that ID made it easier for stores to ID her and accept the cheque.
"All that ID" is what some enterprising critter is going to steal, I guaran-damn-tee you. Just one of who-the-hell-knows how many of those cheques she's written drifts through the wrong paws and she's going to be hip-deep in her own special hell.
Put the bare minimum of information on your cheques, okay folks?
Speaking of Drivers Licenses and Social Security Numbers -- if you live in one of those misbegotten States which uses your SSN as your drivers license number -- change it.
Monday morning, drive down to which-ever authority maintains driver licenses in your State and have them issue you a DL number that doesn't have a damned thing to do with your Social Security Number.
Last, but not least, don't give out personal information by phone or Internet if you didn't initiate the contact.
If someone calls -- or e-mails -- you and asks for any information, feel free to ignore them.
Nobody -- NOBODY-- who is legitimate is going to contact you and ask for information they already have.
Those e-mails you get from somebody claiming to be PayPal, informing you that there's been a problem and they need you to give them account details to "verify" or "fix" something?
Bushwa. That e-mail came from a critter who wants to take you for all that he can.
Someone claiming to be from your credit-card company or bank calls you and asks for your card or account number to verify your identity?
Bushwa. That's a critter who's trying to steal you blind.
I say again my last: if they called you -- don't give them any information.
The risk of you becoming a victim of Identity Theft can be minimized if you take some common-sense precautions, including the ones I have already mentioned. Please click on the links scattered throughout this post for further information and tips.