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Ask the Expert about Identity Theft Myths

Written by Clint Turpen. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on January 25, 2011 with No Comments

by Clint Turpen

Q: I hear about identity theft all the time, and now Iím almost afraid to even check my e-mail. How worried should I be?

A: Identity theft has been a pretty hot topic for a couple years now. Thereís a lot of information out there, and not all of it is based on fact. People find old data, or make assumptions about things they donít understand, send a couple e-mails, and pretty soon 20 Web sites are telling you something that may or may not be true.

To confuse the issue even more, some things became myths, but now have passed back into the realm of truth. For a while you always heard, ìIdentity theft is the fastest-growing crime,î but for about three years, the numbers were actually decreasing, at least in the United States, as awareness increased and the laws finally began to catch up with the reality.

Then the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008. Since that time, identity theft has been on another major upswing. ìIdentity theft is the fastest-growing crimeî was true, then it wasnít, but now it appears to be true again.

However, there are some ideas that get thrown around that arenít really based on fact. Iíll explore three of these today.

Myth No. 1: Most identity theft happens online

There is a lot of paranoia when it comes to using the Internet and in particular when it comes to shopping and banking online. The reality is that only about 15 percent of identity theft occurs in the online space. In many cases, buying and banking online are actually safer than using a credit card in a store or getting your banking statement mailed to you.

Of course, 15 percent is nothing to sneeze at, but as long as you take precautions, youíll reduce your risk exponentially.

First, purchase good antivirus software, install it correctly and pay for a subscription. Viruses, spyware and other things you donít want on your computer are constantly changing. You need those updates from the antivirus software company ñ thatís not just a racket to get you to spend more money.

Second, stay educated. Learn what phishing is so you know how to avoid it when you get an e-mail that instructs you to click on a link to verify an account. Read up on the risks, and remember that it can happen to anyone.

Finally, use common sense. Only shop from online vendors you know and trust, and check out any business youíve never used before. Donít download pirated software, because you never know when it might contain a spyware ìbonus.î Get a single credit card that you use only for online transactions, so you can monitor any fraudulent activity.

Myth No. 2: Identity thieves will use your information for years

This used to be the case years ago, and some still believe it to be true. I think there was a made-for-TV movie about a victim whose identity was used for years by one person, and there was apparently nothing she could even do about it.

These days, identity theft is often the work of organized criminals ñ which is, admittedly, much scarier than a single person using your information. Theyíll harvest hundreds of identities at a time, then burn through them one by one, often using each for only a week or two. The money is laundered though a variety of means, and is often used to fund drug trafficking, gun trafficking and even terrorism. By the time the victim realizes something is amiss, the criminals have moved on to the next identity.

Myth No. 3: Iím not at risk because I have bad credit

This may be the most harmful identity theft myth, because not all identity theft is financial. Sure, a thief might not be able to open a line of credit in your name, but your information could still be used to obtain medical treatment or employment, or to evade law enforcement. It doesnít matter if your credit score is four, when that thief doesnít show up for court, the police will come looking for you.

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About Clint Turpen

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Clint Turpen, marketing specialist at Regional Federal Credit Union, is a certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist. He is an author at Regional Federal Credit Union’s Fraud Prevention Unit Web site. For more information, visit www.fraudpreventionunit.org.

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