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Be vigilant in guarding your personal information. Tear up everything that might have an account number. Just to be safe, also tear up your apartment number, your Sleep Number Bed number, and your oversized "We're Number 1" foam finger.


What Is It

Identity theft typically means using someone's personal information to steal money. Victims may not only lose money, but their credit history can be damaged.

You can't actually steal someone's identity. Even John Travolta and Nicolas Cage couldn't pull off a stolen identity in that movie Face/Off, and they literally switched faces. No one can forget lines like, "I don't know what I hate wearing worse: your face or your body."

Young grads are highly vulnerable to identity theft due to high use of technology (file sharing, social networking sites, etc.), the avalanche of credit card offers thrown into the trash, and low frequency of reviewing credit card and checking accounts.


Tips To Protect Yourself

Review your credit card and check statements carefully each month; tear everything up (along with ATM receipts, gas receipts, and credit card offers) when done; and keep your computer and wireless network password protected.

If you found employment as a hand model (or you're just afraid of paper cuts), buy a shredder. You can find these for under $40 at office supply stores. Plus, they sound cool when you shred.

Three major credit bureaus keep an eye on all of your financial activity: Experian (experian.com), TransUnion (transunion.com), and Equifax (equifax.com).

If something goes wrong, request a "fraud alert" be placed on your file of all three major credit bureaus. Tell them that you're an identity theft victim and "crazy" angry. Be vigilant in clearing your name.


Terms

Dumpster diving:
Stealing personal information by going through the trash.

Shoulder surfing:
Stealing personal information by reading your credit card information over your shoulder.

Skimming:
Restaurant servers selling your credit card numbers.


Story Time

One day, Bert decided to phone in an order for a pizza in the middle of a crowded mall. He yelled, "No anchovies!" along with his credit card number. He even yelled his social security number, which confused the pizza man to no end. Much to Bert's dismay, the pizza arrived with anchovies, prompting him to fling his ATM card at the delivery man, but fishy pizza was only the beginning of his problems.

A few days later, Bert discovered that there had been thousands of dollars in charges from TinyHatsforDogs.com on his card. Someone overheard Bert's credit card number at the mall and used it illegally. And that person had a dog who liked tiny hats.

When Bert stopped by the ATM on the way to his bank, he found that his account was empty. The pizza delivery man took his card! (Bert later regretted wearing his "My PIN number is 3846" T-shirt that day.)

Once he got to his bank, he learned that impostor Bert ordered checks with a new address, had a new driver's license issued, and took out a million-dollar loan. "Wow!" Bert exclaimed. "I didn't know I could qualify for a million-dollar loan!"

Worst of all, the bank representative told him that someone was arrested for trying to rob that very bank, gave police Bert's name, and then skipped out on bail. So, the real Bert was arrested on the spot and taken to the county jail. He was allowed one phone call; he used it to order a pizza (in a whisper).

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