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Your best bet is to always keep a handle on your accounts and your credit report. That is, check your balances, charges and debits once every day or two, and for a reasonable price (usually $10 per month), you can have a service that monitors your credit report for new accounts and inquiries and then alerts you when something suspicious happens.
You can also have your bank lower your credit limits (many people have much more than they need). Lastly, never give out private financial information over the phone or in person to someone you don't know and trust, and feel free to tell businesses you are not going to give them that information. It is nothing they have a right to.
This is one area where the law really can't keep up with technology. Essentially, the hackers and criminals are smarter and more technologically adept than legislators and law enforcement. Even when we do hire cops smart enough to follow the trail of the identity thief, prosecution often does not match the crime because the lawmakers never anticipated this kind of thing.
To protect yourself you have to be diligent about not sharing personal information unless absolutely necessary. We also have to pay attention to our accounts and if you notice anything that is suspicious notify the credit card company or bank immediately.
I think that the approach to this has to be twofold. On one hand, I think that lending agencies have to do a very strong and diligent job of making sure that they are monitoring credit habits that could reflect fraudulence. Simply put, they do not win with identity theft. They are left holding the bag and this has to be monitored in a proactive and very deliberate manner. I also think that there has to be strict punishment from a legal point of view on how those who engage in identity theft are punished. It is far from a "victimless crime," and must be acknowledged as one by the legal system. At the same time, individuals have to do a better job of monitoring their own credit activity. Frequently checking their bills online, or their credit card spending online can allow them to detect any irregularities and notify proper authorities. The worst part about identity theft is the detrimental effect it has over time. I think that constant and consistent monitoring of one's credit activity can be of significant help in minimizing this.
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