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KOINONIA HOUSE - from the April 10, 2007 eNews issue
In recent months several high profile security breaches have brought the subject of identity theft back into the national spotlight. In what has been described as the largest theft of consumer data in US history, computer hackers were able to steal information on 45.7 million credit and debit cards after gaining access to discount retailer TJ Maxx's database. Adding fuel to the fire, this week Georgia state health officials admitted that a computer disk containing the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 2.9 million Medicaid and children's health care recipients is missing.
It is the fastest growing crime in the nation and no one is immune. Anyone can become a victim. Identity theft is when someone obtains your personal information - such as your bank or credit card account numbers, information about your income, your Social Security number (SSN), or your name, address, and phone number - and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.
Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and their hard earned money - cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of their good name and credit record. Some victims have lost job opportunities, been refused loans for education, housing or cars, or even been arrested for crimes they didn't commit. Testifying before the US Senate, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras said that almost 10 million people each year - or 4.6 percent of the adult population - discover that they are victims of some form of identity theft.
Minimize Your Risk
Although you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information wisely. Following is a list of ways you can protect yourself from identity theft: -Monitor the balances of your financial accounts. Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals. -Order a copy of your credit report and make sure it's accurate. A recent amendment to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. For more information visit the Federal Trade Commission website. -Before disposing of documents and junk mail, shred or destroy bank and credit card statements, bills, pre- approved credit offers, and anything that contains personal information such as your SSN and income or tax information. -Update your virus protection software regularly. Computer viruses can have damaging effects, including introducing program code that causes your computer to send out files or other stored information. -Don't download files from strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you don't know. Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or a program that could hijack your modem. -Use a firewall, especially if you have a high-speed or "always on" connection to the Internet. -Read Web site privacy policies. They should answer questions about the access to and accuracy, security, and control of personal information the site collects, as well as how sensitive information will be used, and whether it will be provided to third parties.
For more information on what to do if you believe your personal information has been compromised or your identity has been stolen contact the Federal Trade Commission (there is a lot of valuable information on the FTC website, see link below). We are all at risk. It is worth your time and effort to get informed about identity theft and to take precautions to protect yourself and your family from fraud.