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 USDOJ.gov or FTC.gov.

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

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

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  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.