By Amy Goodman
Co-Director, Autism NOW Center
Do you know or have you ever heard of someone who has had their identity taken away from them? I have and it is not a pretty sight. Examples of identity theft can include mysterious charges on your credit card statement; not being able to renew a driver’s license because you have tickets and violations that you did not even know existed; or receiving a letter from the Social Security Administration stating that your payments are going to stop because you have gained employment when in fact you have not been working. This article is intended to inform you of what identity theft is, precautions you may take to prevent it and what to do if it happens to you. These recommendations can help you maintain your independence.
What is Identity Theft or Identity Fraud?
Identity theft or identity fraud refers to when someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal information such as their driver’s license, date of birth, social security number or credit card for economic gain in a deceitful or dishonest manner. Being a victim of identity theft may affect your credit score, social security benefits, chances of being approved for loans and credit cards, and the goods and services you receive.
What are common tactics that a perpetrator may use to steal a person’s identity?
- By watching their victim from a nearby location as they punch in their credit card number, telephone calling card number, or pin number. It is also common for perpetrators to listen in during your conversation with someone else. This form of spying is referred to as “shoulder surfing.”
- By using a tactic called “dumpster diving,” in which the thief goes through your dumpster or garbage can to obtain copies of your checks, credit card receipts, or bank statements.
- By contacting you through email or phone claiming that you have won a prize and they need your social security number to verify who you are.
What are some tips that may be helpful in preventing identity theft?
- Be wary of telephone solicitations. Never give out your credit card number, social security number, or any information to someone you don’t know. If they ask for any of the above information, hang up or ask them to send you the information in writing.
- Shred important documents that you plan on throwing away such as bank statements or anything with your social security number on it.
- If you are traveling, place a temporary hold on incoming mail or have someone that you trust pick it up for you.
- Check your financial information regularly. Check your bank and/or credit card statements to see if there are any unauthorized debits or charges that you did not make or authorize to be made. Contact your bank if you notice any mysterious charges.
- Check your social security history and work history, and make sure this information is correct. If someone uses your social security number and any earnings are made under your name, you may be at risk for losing your disability payments.
What steps should I take if I suspect that I am a victim of identity theft?
Depending on what type of identity theft problem you may be encountering, contact the following agencies immediately:
- Federal Trade Commission to report the situation
- Social Security Administration (SSA) to check on your disability payments
- Post Office Inspection Department if you suspect that the theft has tampered with your mail or mailing address
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Police or Sheriff’s Department to file an impersonation report
- Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to make sure your driver’s license is not compromised
- The credit bureau to check your credit score
- Your financial institution or bank
- An attorney, if needed
One may not even find out a thief has stolen their identity until it is too late; therefore, it is important to take precautionary steps. Be wary and ask questions. Don’t take everything at face value, be cautious, and know what your information is being used for. and understand how to report a scam as soon as you realize it before it is too late.
References and Resources
- The United States Department of Justice
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
- Jacoby & Meyers: Identity Theft Can Affect Your Social Security Benefits