Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Identity theft is the stealing of someone’s personal identification information (e.g., Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number) to commit a crime (e.g., income tax refund fraud). You can never fully prevent identity theft, no matter how cautious you are, but you can minimize the risk of becoming a victim by taking steps to improve the security of your personal data.
Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses are two commonly misused forms of identification. Cards (e.g., Medicare) that use a person’s Social Security number are also used for fraudulent purposes. Identity theft can occur via hacked databases, stolen wallets, stolen mail, rummaging through garbage for information (“dumpster diving”), crooks fraudulently pretexting to obtain a victim’s data (e.g., posing as a banker or credit card company), and unsupervised access to information in a person’s home (e.g., a dishonest contractor).
Identity theft can result in both monetary harm (e.g., fraudulent credit card charges) and non-monetary harm. Examples of non-monetary harm are time spent trying to resolve credit problems, lost productivity at work, and emotional distress. Below are some small steps that cost little or nothing, to reduce the risk of identity theft:
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