You’ve probably seen those credit card commercials that ask what’s in your wallet. A better question might be who’s in your wallet.
Millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft each year. According to the Federal Trade Commission, credit card fraud is one of the most common forms of the crime.
Bev Molnar, 45, of State College, Pa. (pop. 38,420), was one of the luckier victims. “Someone got hold of my MasterCard number and used it to charge more than $900 worth of fitness equipment,” she says. Fortunately for Molnar, her credit card company called her to verify whether she had made the purchase.
The criminal who used Molnar’s credit card probably was a stranger. But Anne Wallace, president of the Identity Theft Assistance Center, cautions that identity theft isn’t always an impersonal crime.
“Sometimes it’s just opportunity,” Wallace says, “like the 19-year-old kid who wants to go to the beach on spring break with his buddies and decides to rip off grandma, or the jilted girlfriend who decides to empty out the shared bank account.”
Regardless of the form ID theft takes, the steps to protect yourself are the same:
- Monitor accounts. Report questionable charges immediately.
- Shred documents that contain personal information, such as preapproved credit offers.
- Protect your information. Don’t write your personal identification number on your ATM or debit card. Don’t put your Social Security number or credit card number on checks. Carry only the identification you absolutely need.
- Check your credit reports. Order a free copy each year from the major credit bureaus: Equifax, (800) 685-1111; Experian, (888) 397-3742; and TransUnion, (800) 916-8800. You also can order the reports at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Story by Kay Bell of Austin, Texas.