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  • First My Identity and Now My House!?

    In our next segment of RipOff Tip-Offs, Guaranteed Rated uncovers identity theft scams and how you can help prevent the lure of these tech-savvy criminals.

    While you have been cautioned about protecting your identity, with technological advances it has become prudent to take additional steps to protect all of your personal information. These crafty, resolute criminals have many ways to lure you into a ring of identity theft madness which has long-lasting financial effects and an extraordinary impact on your credit and your sanity.

    I’m sure you’re wondering how these thieves go from a credit card number to taking your house, here is the scam:

    The scam artists determine the house they want to steal – often, it is a vacation or empty home, but not always – then they assume your identity. Once your identity is stolen, the scammer will create fake IDs and forge your signature on property transfer documents, file the deeds with the proper authorities and take possession of your home. Your home is then sold to innocent purchasers without the knowledge you are the lawful owner.

    According to the FTC, here are some ways a thief can steal your identity:

    Dumpster Diving: This is exactly what it sounds like; thieves will dig through trash bins looking for personal information to steal.

    Skimming: Thieves use cameras and special skimming storage devices to copy your card number. These devices are typically used in ATMs or other places where you swipe your card.

    Phishing: This is an electronic scam thieves use to attain your personal information; typically, in the form of an email or pop-up asking you for personal information.

    Spyware/Malware:Spyware and Malware are viruses loaded onto your computer when you are surfing the internet. These viruses track and forward all of your personal information and internet surfing habits to the criminal.

    Change of Address: Thieves redirect your billing statements to another location by filling out a change of address form with the United States Postal Service.

    Stealing: This is old-fashioned thievery and the items of interest are typically wallets, purses and mail.

    Now that you know how a thief can steal your identity, here are some ways to guard against it:

    • Maintain strong passwords for online banking (e.g., accounts for checking and savings, student loans, retirement funds, credit cards and any other institutions which require a social security number to open an account) and change them often.
    • Install security software on computers and mobile devices and keep it updated to protect against spyware and malware.
    • Review financial statements regularly to identify suspicious activities.
    • Sign up for credit report monitoring through a credit bureau, such as Experian, Transunion or Equifax to catch irregularities.
    • Shred sensitive documents before discarding.
    • Be cautious about giving out personally identifiable information by determining why it is needed, how it will be used and if it is absolutely necessary. 
    • Do not keep important documents such as a social security card, birth certificate or passport in your purse or wallet.

    If you suspect your identity has been stolen, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize the damage:

    • Place fraud alerts with all three credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion and Equifax.
    • Close all fraudulent accounts immediately.
    • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
    • File a report with the local police.

    Now that you are clear on how to protect yourself, your first step is to review your credit report for accuracy.  Stay tuned for Guaranteed Rate’s next RipOff Tip-Off. 

    Jan 25 2013