Identity theft is a plague that is ravishing American consumers. It is, without rival, the fastest growing crime in the United States. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) reports that the number of identity theft victims has now eclipsed 10 million per year. It is estimated that the average identity theft victim has been taken for $500. Worse than that, it is reported that it takes, on average, 30 hours to get the issues resolved. Identity theft ranges everywhere from stealing credit card numbers, to completely highjacking someone’s identity.

Diferent Types of Identity Theft

If you think identity theft strikes close to home, you have no idea how right you are. Believe it or not, a recent study has shown that 32% of identity theft victims were victimized by an immediate family member or relative. In addition to that the study found that 18% fell prey to identity theft at the hands of a friend, neighbor, or in home worker. Add it up and you can see that half of all identity thefts are perpetrated by someone that the victim knows at least fairly well.

There is some good news however. Most identity theft cases, if found early enough, are relatively easy to resolve. Most banks and creditors offer their customers protection by only holding them accountable for the first $50 of the fraudulant charges incurred by the thief’s actions. But on the other side of the equation, the most severe and complex cases of identity theft can literally take years to clear up. These cases of fraud can cause severe disruption in the lives of its victims and requires substantial time and effort to rectify.

Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

The more spohisticated technology gets, the more in peril our private information becomes. The very best thing you can do, and the most effective way to prevent identity theft, is to be cautious about how and where you share your information. Guarded caution, not paranoia, is the best form of protection. Checking your accounts on a regular basis is also a great way to monitor your record for fraudulant activity.

Keep an eye out for anything that doesn’t look quite right. If you are unsure of anything, contact that creditor and inquire about it with them. You also need to get a nice and sturdt paper shredder. Shred any documents that you no longer need. And when you get those pre-approved credit card offers in the mail, make sure you shred those as well. The bad guys can use them to open up a credit card account and make charges in your name.

In Case Your Identity is Stolen

If you see evidence that your identity has been stolen, or compromised in any way, the very first thing you must do is gather up all the facts as best you can. Put on your Dick Tracy hat and scour over your financial statements and credit report for any clues as to what has happened. Immediately contact the creditors involved and inform them. They will cancel the fraudulant charges and place fraud alerts on your credit report to note the incident is not your fault and that you have been a victim of a crime.

If the fraud is serious enough, which they all are, make out a police report. Get the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) involved by informing them of the crime. It is also advisable that you sign up with a reputable credit monitoring service. They will inform when there are any changes or new activity on your credit report. Time is of the essence in these cases. The quicker you can get out front of the problem, the better off you will be.