Identity theft protection is a fairly new phenomenon in American society. In our early history, few were concerned with identity theft protection. Our communities were smaller then and most people knew one another. Someone might have pretended to have represented themselves as another, but short of being popular, there was nothing you could do to prevent that mischief. Someone might have pretended to be another, but there was not much but acceptance to be gained. Someone might have pretended to be Billy the Kid or some less notorious other ‘hero’, but the pretense had little impact on the person being impersonated. In those days, identity theft protection was unnecessary.
Identity theft protection didn’t begin to matter until the modern age. With the widespread use of telecommunications and the equally widespread use of credit cards, business transactions without face-to-face encounters became possible. Using telecommunications and credit or debit cards, banks can transfer funds to a merchant’s bank at the behest of a merchant claiming to have made a sale to the transferring bank’s customer. All that is needed to make such a transaction is a credit or debit card number. While merchants are expected to check a customer’s identifying signature on the card against some other valid form of identification, not all do. With sales over the telephone or the internet, signature verification is impossible. Merchants operate off of the assumption that if the person making the purchase has the credit or debit card number, that person is its rightful owner. Possession of the number serves to identity the holder, even if the holder is the rightful one.
As well as being vulnerable to identity theft because of our ‘cashless’ economy, people are also vulnerable to identity theft by the widespread use of social security numbers to identify a person. Again, the use of telecommunications to pass information from one party to another makes it possible for someone to hijack your social security number, but forms that we fill out for any number of reasons often require we give our social security number. This number is the primary means used to identify a person in our country, although it was meant to be only a means of identifying ourselves to the Social Security Administration. Our social security number is a key that opens many doors into our personal lives. With a social security number and some good guesses, a thief can obtain your credit report. With your social security number and a name, a thief can get a credit card in your name. Securing your social security number is perhaps the most important step you can take in your identity thief protection strategy.
Avoid identity theft. Report missing or stolen credit cards immediately and give your social security number only to those you trust. The first line of defense against identity theft is you, with a good identity theft protection strategy in place.