Ways to Protect Against Identity Theft
There's a reason consumers are worried about protecting their credit- and debit-card information.
The feds said Monday that one alleged master scammer stole data involving more than 130 million credit cards. In fact, Albert Gonzalez may be responsible for the largest case of identity theft on record
, according to federal prosecutors.
Meanwhile, other hackers are working their way into the computer systems of major retailers across the country, experts say.
As the bad guys get savvier, identity theft has become more common. Last year, the number of incidents of identity fraud in the United States increased 22% over 2007, according to the most recent survey by Javelin Strategy & Research.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your information to open credit cards or bank accounts, write bad checks or take out loans. Victims can be left with countless charges, years of bad credit and endless aggravation.
Some 10 million Americans were victimized in 2008, up from 8.1 million in 2007, Javelin said.
But, "there are certain things that you can do to protect yourself."
Stop identify theft before it startsWhat can you do to keep it from happening to you?
The most effective weapon against identity theft is to safeguard your personal information:birth date, Social Security number and credit card numbers.
Shredding your mail, using unpredictable passwords and secure networks, keeping careful tabs on your bank statements and monthly bills and monitoring your credit report regularly are the best ways to prevent identity theft.
That includes monitoring your credit report and notifying you of any changes plus a few fancy extras.
Equifax's ID Patrol searches suspected underground Internet trading sites for your personal information and includes identity theft insurance up to $1 million with no deductible.
Other credit monitoring services
are available from your bank. Bank of America's Privacy Assist service costs $12.99 a month for unlimited credit checks. For $9.99 a month, Chase's Identity Protection will also reimburse up to $100,000 of identity fraud expenses.
But keep in mind, most services can only warn or insure you against ID theft
after the fact. Monitoring services can only throw up red flags at the first sign of trouble and help limit losses, which Foley says is "reactive, not proactive."