Bankruptcy has become more abundant throughout the United States over the past few years.  Recent reports have shown that home foreclosure is a leading cause, as well as the country’s infatuation with credit.  However, irresponsible use of a Visa or Mastercard and late payments is no longer the primary issue.  In modern times, anyone can fall prey to the infectious credit culture that has left many individuals in financial ruin.  The cause?  Identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission has reported that nearly 15 million people were victims of credit card identity theft over the past two years.  Some blame it on America’s willingness to issue credit to almost anyone, keeping up with demands of consumers who buy on impulse.  The quick and easy approvals leave important information at the mercy of rummaging mailbox thieves.  These imposters can also intercept someone else’s credit card with as little as their name and Social Security number.

Others believe that the media has played a huge role in this mass level of paranoia, constantly warning consumers of the many scams and thefts that may occur.  The internet also poses a threat, as there is no guarantee that these retailers will not sell a consumer’s information on the black market.  The truth is that identity thieves are very familiar with the system and how it works.  The faster a company issues credit, the faster they are able to steal it.

How to Protect Yourself

Recovering from any type of identity theft is a challenge, but rebuilding your credit just may be the most time consuming task of all.  The best way to protect yourself from malicious credit card thieves is total prevention.  Here is what you can do:

Password smarts – We have all seen that convenient dialog box that asks, “Do you want the computer to save your username and password?”  Here is a tip – do not click this option!  In many Windows operating system, this sensitive information is stored into a folder directly on the hard drive.  Even a novice hacker is aware of this and can easily crack into these files by using a variety of free programs.

Firewall – At one time, a firewall application was viewed as an additional security tool to backup an anti-virus program – these days, they are a necessity.  This is largely due to the Script Kiddie epidemic that recently swept the internet.  A Script Kiddie uses their hacking ability to compromise a user’s system.  Many of them post credit card numbers and other stolen information directly on another website to flaunt the crime.  A solid firewall program will help keep the hackers out of the system and away from your personal information.

Verification – Before mailing back that credit card approval or clicking the “submit” icon on the web, make sure you understand how much information needs to be given away.  Giving away these details makes it that much easier for someone to build fraudulent profiles and steal your identity.

Credit card identity theft has become a harsh reality for many unsuspecting individuals.  While several contributing factors make this crime very difficult to stop, consumers can protect themselves by understanding the dangers and practicing extreme caution with their personal information.

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