This was originally published on Monday, July 1, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
QUESTION: My next door neighbor just had his identity stolen. How can I protect myself from identity theft and what can my neighbor do to repair the damages that the identity theft created?
ANSWER: Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Technology has made access to our finances, work and socializing so much easier. Unfortunately it has also made us much more susceptible to identity theft. This month, I’ll be outlining ways to protect yourself from identity theft.
The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft and identity fraud as “types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.” Identity theft can cause serious damage to your credit, your job and even your reputation. Protecting yourself and your family should be a priority.
When we hear the words ‘identity theft,’ most of us think about credit cards, bank accounts and money. There are several different types of identity theft:
• Tax-related Identity Theft happens when someone uses a Social Security Number to get a job or for tax purposes.
• Child Identity Theft is when a minor’s social security number is being misused, usually to open accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, apply for government benefits or open a credit card.
• Medical Identity Theft occurs when health insurance numbers or a policy is used to receive medical attention, prescription drugs or file a claim with your health insurance provider.
• Criminal Identity Theft occurs when a crime is committed using another person’s name.
Signs of identity theft
Most people don’t know that they are victims of identity theft until it’s too late and the damage is quite extensive. Be aware of the signs that may indicate you’re a victim of identity theft:
• Your credit score is unusually low;
• Unauthorized withdrawals or purchases on your accounts;
• You’re not receiving mail, especially your bills;
• You’re receiving credit cards or bills for accounts that you never applied for;
• You receive phone calls from debt collectors about debts that are not yours;
• The IRS has informed you that more than one tax return was filed in your name;
• Financial institutions are denying you credit or only offering you high interest rates;
• Your credit report shows inaccurate personal information or unfamiliar accounts; and
• Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at email@example.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.