Most people have probably heard of identity theft protection services, such as LifeLock. LifeLock and other similar services offer to monitor a customer’s credit activity and alert the customer when his or her personal information is being used to apply for credit cards or various types of loans, order checks, or take other actions to steal the customer’s identity.
But how do you keep identity thieves from obtaining your personal information in the first place? According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity thieves typically obtain your information in one of six ways:
- Dumpster diving. This means rummaging through trash in order to find account information, social security numbers, or other personal information.
- Skimming. This involves the identity thieves hooking up electronic devices to the machines that process credit cards. Once your card is scanned, they can access your account number.
- Phishing. This means pretending to be a financial institution or a company and sending emails (or pop-up ads) that direct you to a website that appears to be the company’s site. Once you are there, they will prompt you to enter your account information, and will use that to access your account.
- Changing your address. Identity thieves sometimes complete a change of address form for their victims, directing the victim’s mail to a new address. They then use the credit cards statements, bank statements, and other mail the victim receives to access his or her identity.
- Stealing. This includes stealing purses, wallets, mail, or anything that can be used to access someone’s identity.
- Pretexting. This means pretending to be a financial institution, credit card company, or another company for the purposes of obtaining financial information.
Next week I’ll discuss how to prevent thieves from obtaining your personal information, and what you should do once they’ve gotten it.