Unfortunately, Arizona consistently tops the Federal Trade Commission's list of states with the most identity theft complaints. Our neighbors in Nevada and California follow closely behind. There is little information to support why this is so except for conjecture that a higher population along with illegal entry into the country promotes the thievery.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold. As many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn't make-or until you're contacted by a debt collector.
How Do Thieves Steal an Identity?
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including such things as "Dumpster Diving", Skimming credit cards, changing your address to divert mail, computer "phishing", pretending to be a financial institution on the telephone or just old fashion stealing your wallet.
What Do Thieves Do With a Stolen Identity?
Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways which involve some variation of using your information to access your accounts and steal your money or credit, create phony accounts in your name and steal money or incur charges pretending to be you or pretend to be you in order to get driver's licenses or even jobs.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
As always, the best defense is a good offense. First, stop giving out your Social Security number. Next, secure your mail by destroying sensitive information and check you credit report regularly for new accounts that you did not open.
There are many other things you can do as well including destroying private records and statements, securing your mail, not carrying any cards that have your social security number on them, monitoring your bank and credit card statements and just being alert that your private information is always at risk of theft.
If you own and use a computer, you must protect it from vulnerability by keeping your system and browser software up to date and set to the highest security level you can tolerate. Install anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection, and keep them up to date as well. When possible use hardware firewalls, often available through your broadband connection router. Also, keep your passwords confidential and protected.
What if Something Goes Wrong?
Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after some damage has been done. If something should go wrong you should immediately file an Identity Theft Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling them or going on line and then filing a report with your local police department. Next, you should contact your credit card companies and the three big credit reporting agencies and request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file. There are other steps that may be needed depending on your particular situation.
What Can You Do to Help Fight Identity Theft?
Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms identity theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen. Then tell your friends so they can protect themselves too!
How Can an Attorney Help?
In matters such as identity theft, pursuit of a remedy solely through the criminal justice system may be not enough. In these types of cases, the criminal justice system cannot always provide individuals with the level of relief they may seek. Public agencies cannot provide legal advice to private individuals. Therefore, victims of identity theft are strongly encouraged to seek the assistance of an identity theft attorney for any civil or other remedies that may be available. In addition an attorney can work with you to restore you good name and credit by acting rapidly to stop the thieves in their tracks and then working with you to repair your credit and reputation.