If you are concerned about the growing incidents of identity theft, I recommend the following post from Trent Wilcox of the Arizona Divorce & Family Law blog:
It’s beginning to look a lot like . . . well, like the winter holidays, with all the gift-giving and –receiving opportunities that abound. Gift lists grow ever-longer and more specific, and the giver’s thoughts turn to long hours and longer lines at the mall, fighting for this year’s version of the last Furby or Cabbage Patch Doll on the shelf. Wouldn’t it be easier to log onto the Web and shop in your jammies, humming along with your Christmas tapes? But what about identity theft? Could you unwittingly be handing over your life to some scammer?
It is possible—but not as likely as the hype may lead you to believe. In the report prepared for the Federal Trade Commission in 2003 by Synovate, approximately 4.6 percent of the population experienced some form of identity theft in 2002. In the same report, it was determined that in twenty-five percent of all identity thefts reported, the thief obtained the information through theft of a purse or wallet.
So your chances of experiencing any form of identity theft are one chance in twenty. And if you are one of the unlucky ones, you have a one in four chance of having been taken when someone lifted your wallet or purse.
How else does your information get captured? Do you shred your credit card statements, or do you just toss them in the garbage? If you leave them whole, that gives a thief your name, address, and account number. If you put them in a desk drawer, someone could remove them from that drawer. And do you know where the waiter goes with your credit card when he goes to swipe it? Are you sure he’s not making notes on a post-it, just in case he feels your tip is too small? There’s more to identity theft than the Internet.
What do you do when you realize that something’s gone wrong? For most people, the main concern is with misuse of an existing credit card account. With good reason too—according to Synovate’s 2003 report, misuse of an existing card accounts for over half the incidents of reported identity theft.
First and foremost, report the loss or theft of a credit card to the issuer immediately. This can limit your liability dramatically, often to a cap of $50.00 per card. Close any accounts you know were tampered with and open new accounts with new passwords. Don’t choose something obvious like a string of consecutive numbers, your mother’s maiden name, parts of your Social Security Number, or names of children or pets. Then file complaints with your local police and with the Federal Trade Commission. Finally, place a fraud alert on your credit report.
Speaking of credit reports, they are one of the best tools for making sure accounts are not being opened in your name without your knowledge. You are entitled to one free credit report every twelve months—just for asking. Peace of mind makes a nice holiday gift to yourself.
I recall recently reading that identity theft is not uncommon between divorced spouses. Your ex-spouse does not need to sift through the garbage to obtain the personal information necessary to steal your identity. The knowledge was obtained during the marriage and then handed to them as part of financial disclosure during the divorce.