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How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

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Identity theft is becoming easier and easier as more and more people shop online. Find out how to protect yourself from identity thieves in this sample chapter.

Maybe Shakespeare was right when he said in Othello, "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed."

Let's say you are at a car dealership and the salesman comes back with a long face and tells you the financing on the car you wanted to buy has been turned down, or the dealership has had to go to another loan source that means higher interest and payments. "But I have great credit," you say.

In another scenario, you apply for another credit card and are turned down. In both cases, you are shown a copy of your credit report and find late payment notices or applications for credit cards in other cities. Someone has stolen your identity.

FTC Survey

According to a survey of the Federal Trade Commission[1], 27.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft within a five-year period. Fifty-two percent of identity theft victims first learned that they had been victimized by monitoring their own accounts. Twenty-six percent of victims first learned from credit card issuers, banks, or other companies with which they did business that they had been the victims of identity. theft while eight percent of the victims first found out their identity had been stolen when they applied for credit and were turned down. The survey also revealed that most identity thieves use personal information to buy things; however, fifteen percent of all victims were victimized in non-financial ways, such as when an identity thief used the victim's identity when apprehended for another crime by police. Sixty-seven percent of identity theft victims found that their already existing credit card accounts were improperly accessed while nineteen percent of identity theft victims said that their checking or savings accounts had been looted. California was the state with the highest number of identity theft victims proportionate to its population, followed by Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Florida, New York, Washington, Maryland, Oregon, and Colorado. The states with the lowest frequency of identity theft in proportion to population and in descending order were Wyoming, Montana, Maine, Kentucky West Virginia, Iowa, Vermont, South Dakota, and North Dakota. North Dakota had only 12.6 victims of identity theft for every 100,000 of population during 2002.

The FTC has been helping identity theft victims since 1998 and has an excellent Identity Theft Program to help victims and provide information to help combat this problem. If you are the victim of identity theft you can file a complaint with the FTC by calling them at 1-877-IDTHEFT or online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. When a complaint is made, the information is stored and made available to law enforcement agencies around the country. Victims should not be concerned that the information will make them susceptible to further identity theft; the database is safe and secure.

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