“I-yam what I-yam,” says Popeye. And in a cartoon world, where the biggest threat is Brutus, that is probably true. But the question, here in the real world, is this: who else is you?
Already the number one concern of consumers contacting the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), identity theft is on the rise. In 2006, the victim count numbered 15 million. Based on those numbers (now two years old), a new person is victimized by this crime every two seconds.
Pilfering personal mail is the easiest, fastest, and oldest way to obtain critical information needed to steal an identity. Sitting unguarded in mailboxes nation-wide are bank statements, credit card statements and other vita links to our financial worlds. In the breath-taking bustle of our lives neighbors are often only people we see for a moment each morning as we pull out of the driveway on our way to work. It’s hard to notice a stranger picking up mal from someone else’s box. And since most statements are mailed on the same date, criminals need only lift a few letters to find what they need.
Once armed with credit card or bank account numbers, crooks begin the search for personal information. They already have an address for the targeted victim, and with the help of a phonebook, a telephone number. By checking MySpace, FaceBook and other personal sites on the web, they may well come across a birth date or town of birth. Armed with these tidbits, they’re in business. Using their victim’s personal information, they open an online bank, link it to the existing bank accounts and quickly drain the funds, leaving the rightful owner confused and broke. Credit cards may also be taken out in their prey’s name, with hundreds or even thousands of dollars charged in a matter of hours. One man in Texas lost his bank balance and had $26,000 worth of merchandise and cash withdrawals charged to a credit card within 24 hours of the identity theft taking place. It took him weeks to unravel what had happened to what he thought were his secure finances.
How do we protect ourselves from the fastest growing crime I the world? Simple steps can thwart crooks and save you a lot of headaches and agony.
If you don’t already have a locking mailbox, consider installing a mail slot in your front door, or purchasing a mailbox with a locking lid. If you’re home when the mail runs, retrieve it from the box immediately; leaving it outside for the afternoon invites trouble. Create a type of neighborhood watch for mailboxes. This may take getting to know your neighbors, but the cooperation in safeguarding each other’s personal mail will protect everyone. If you see a stranger going through a neighbor’s mail, yell at them, call your neighbor and alert the police. Odds are, if the criminal is in your neighborhood, you’re either his latest victim or his next target. Consider taking a PO Box at the post office, and be aware of mailing dates for bills and statements. If they do not arrive on the scheduled date, call the bank and lenders to forewarn them of possible problems. Change your billing option to paperless billing, using the Internet to eliminate the risk of strangers rummaging through your personal information.
Simple steps can eliminate you from the list of identity theft victims. And while it may take more than a ca of spinach to strengthen your security, it’s not beyond your ability.