Target 2: Identity Thieves Dreaming of a Christmas Shopping Spree
During the holiday season our identities are especially at risk. There are thieves who would love to use your name to get a few credit cards and then go on a shopping spree.
Identity theft continues to be the fastest growing crime in the country. More than 11 million people become victims each year.
It took an enormous toll on one small business owner.
"You ruined my life. You ruined your whole life." That's Hong Fang's message to the person who stole her identity -- not once but twice, opening credit cards in her name and destroying her credit.
She says her credit score dropped from 800 to 200, and it impacted her trucking business.
"One time I went to a gas station and tried to get gas and credit card denied it."
She wasn't the only victim.
"This person would get people's information and then he would try to open up credit cards by calling the credit card company saying he was an authorized user and he needed the card sent to an address," US Postal Inspector Dominick Riley said.
The number of victims in this case: 25.
The dollars stolen from Hong Fang's credit card: "At least 20,000 - 30,000."
One way to protect yourself, "I won't release any of my personal information on the phone," she says.
Also, closely check your credit card statements.
The identity thief in this case was a repeat offender. Four arrests and prison time didn't stop him.
Even while behind bars he was opening up credit cards in Hong Fang's name.
Identity theft prevention tips from consumer reporting company TransUnion:
Only carry essential documents. Don't carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate, or password outside the house.
Keep new checks out of the mail. When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for them to be stolen.
Be careful giving out personal information over the phone. Identity thieves may pose as banks or government agencies. Don't give personal information over the phone if you didn't initiate the call.
Protect your Social Security number. Make sure your bank doesn't print your SSN on your personal checks.
Your trash is their treasure. Shred your receipts, credit card offers, credit card statements, bank statements, returned checks, and any other document with sensitive information before throwing it away.
Follow your credit card billing cycles closely. Make sure you receive your credit card bill every month. Identity thieves can start by changing your billing address.
Stay on top of your credit. Federal law requires the three nationwide consumer reporting companies TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, up to once every 12 months. The request must be made through the Annual Credit Report Request Service:
Keep a list of account number, expiration date, and support telephone number for each credit card. If your wallet is stolen, being able to quickly alert your creditors is essential to prevent identity theft.
Place passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs) on your accounts. Create passwords or PINs out of random letters and numbers, not birth dates, addresses, nicknames, or personally identifiable information. This makes it harder for identity thieves to figure out these codes.