Last April, a young man, about to start college, appeared on the Montel Williams Show and described how identity theft had cost him $2 million in debt and how the debt was ruining his life. Someone had stolen his identity and racked up the millions by taking out loans, opening lines of credit and even purchasing houses using his social security number and name. But wait, it gets worse. That someone ended up being his own father.
Identity theft is a growing problem. For these thieves, it is simply easier to get what they want by stealing your Social Security number, opening a few credit card accounts in your name and going on a shopping spree, and that is only a moderate example of the damage these thieves could potentially do. As the unfortunate victim’s story above shows, though, a few credit cards could be light damage compared to the havoc an identity thief can wreak.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, “as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.” Almost 30 percent of them are between the ages of 18 and 29. In December 2003, the U.S. Department of Education warned that “college students are particularly vulnerable to having their Social Security numbers and driver’s license information stolen – troubles that can lead to thousands of dollars of unauthorized debt, wrecked credit ratings and even possibly lost job opportunities. Months, even years, could be needed to repair the damage.”
If you’re not checking your credit report on a regular basis, you’ll never know it until you apply for a loan or a job and you get a big fat “denied” stamp on your application.
Also, the U.S. Department of Education has started a new identity theft addition to its regular Web site: www.ed.gov/misused. This new addition has detailed information tailored to college students, explaining how they can protect themselves from identity theft. Students can also call 1-800-MISUSED if they suspect student loan fraud.
Some ways in which you can protect yourself from the identity-theft threat include: shredding all documents that have your Social Security number on them before throwing them away, checking your bank statements no less than on a weekly basis, not giving your Social Security number or other personal information over the phone until you have verified that the person is from a legitimate company and checking your credit report with each credit bureau annually.
The three major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and Transunion. If something on your credit report is false, then you should contact the credit bureau with the inaccurate report. The easiest way to do this is to go to its Web site and follow the directions on how to dispute an inaccuracy.
It is also a good idea to shred credit card offers that get mailed to you. If you would like to stop them altogether, you can call the soliciting credit card companies and have them put a halt on the mailed offers.
1. Companies will understand that it wasn’t your fault your identity was stolen.
2. Thieves only target people with who are older or who have good credit.
3. Credit reports are costly and difficult to order.
1. A bad credit rating will cost you more money when making purchases, especially major ones, even if your identity was stolen.
2. Identity theft can happen to you.
3. You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year and you can easily order them by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.
Don’t wait too long. Take control of protecting your credit by doing these simple things today. Why not? They are easy and free. Odds are an identity thief may have his eye on your credit. You should too.