You may have laughed at the commercials on television where an actor's voice that is obviously different from the actor's body talks about making all kinds of purchases through stolen credit card information. But identity fraud is nothing to joke about, especially considering that the total value of identity fraud in the United States was $56.6 billion in 2006, according to a June 2006 survey from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer information group.
Additionally, a May 2006 report entitled "The Demographics of ID Fraud" published by Javelin Strategy & Research asserts that Hispanics and African Americans have a 56 percent higher chance of becoming victims of identity fraud than other consumers. The report also found that identity fraud perpetrated on Hispanic and African American victims takes longer to detect.
It used to be that identity thieves would have to rummage through garbage and steal information from items like discarded receipts and credit statements, or eavesdrop on a potential victim making a transaction. Our technological era has created more possibilities for thieves. Some hack into computer databases that carry extensive personal information. Others use email to disguise themselves as trustworthy companies, gain a victim's trust, and acquire a victim's sensitive information, a technique known as "phishing."
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) home page on identity theft at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt01.htm gives some signs that you may be a victim of identity fraud, including unusual credit card purchases on your statements and unexplained credit denials. If this has happened, you should immediately close the tampered account and file a police report. The FTC also gives consumers tips to deter thieves and contact information if you have been victimized. Some rules to remember:
* Shred any documents with personal information before you throw them in the trash.
* Don't give your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary.
* Don't click on links in unsolicited "spam" emails.
* Keep all your personal information in a secure, hidden place.
* Don't give out personal information by telephone, mail or internet unless you know the other party well.