ID Theft: When you know the thief

The safety of your personal information and your identity is always at risk. And unfortunately, identity thieves may be even closer than you think. According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC), for every five cases of identity theft, at least two victims knew the thief personally.

Identity theft is a complex crime. The impact of the crime is significantly magnified when the imposter is someone you know and trust. If you find yourself in this situation, you have several options:

-Proceed as if this was a regular case of ID Theft by filing a police report and cooperating with law enforcement’s investigation.
-Work with the creditors to see if a resolution can be made without police involvement.
-Hire a mediator to help devise a solution.
-Pay the debt and live with the consequences.

You might also consider encouraging the impostor to seek professional counseling.

Because none of the options are easy, by far the best solution is to help prevent the theft from ever occurring. In honor of National Protect Your Identity Week (PYIW), October 17-24, 2009, consider the following tips to protect your personal information:

Lock it up. Invest in a filing cabinet that locks. File all personal documents including credit card and bank statements, tax documents, and any other financial paperwork that are kept at home.

Use passwords to protect your computer. Be sure to password protect your computer and all files on your hard drive pertaining to your finances. Change passwords often and be sure to use a password that is not too easy for thieves to figure out.

Keep credit cards and PIN numbers safe. Do not keep your bank or credit card PIN numbers in your wallet or anywhere near your debit and credit cards. Also, do not lend your card to others or share your PIN. If you have already made this mistake, call the issuer to get a new card and change the PIN. Additionally, do not carry your Social Security card around with you. It should also be kept in a secure location.

Choose your houseguests wisely. Use caution when inviting strangers into your home. Be extra careful when choosing someone to housesit or pick up your mail when you are on vacation. Consider asking the post office to hold your mail when planning to be away for more than a few days.

Go paperless. Research shows that people who bank entirely online reduce their chances of becoming identity theft victims by 10 percent. Also, consider investing in personal finance software to track expenses and pay bills online.

No one can completely protect themselves from all types of identity theft. If you become a victim, time is of the essence. Acting quickly and thoroughly can limit the potentially far-reaching impact identity theft may have on your finances and life. For more information about protecting your identity, visit or

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.