debt

5 scary paths that lead to damaging debt

The grisly facts of identity theft
The grisly facts of identity theft © JohnKwan/Shutterstock.com

Imagine waking up to harassing telephone calls from a bill collector about a debt you never owed, watching your car being repossessed or getting your cellphone service shut off because of "delinquency." Or worse, losing a potential job because a background check shows a warrant for your arrest for a crime you didn't commit.

"If you saw the movie 'Identity Thief,' you saw these things portrayed in a funny way, but if it happened to you it would not be a laughing matter," says Robert Hammond, author of the book "Identity Theft: How to Protect Your Most Valuable Asset."

Don't think it can happen to you? According to a recent survey by Javelin Strategy & Research, there were more than 12 million identity fraud victims in 2012 in the U.S., which equates to one victim every 3 seconds. The most damaging breach involved Social Security numbers, the study found.

The solution? Awareness, experts say. Protect your personal information by not leaving credit cards, monthly bills or your Social Security card lying around the house or stuffed in your wallet. Keep these items in a safe place. Shred any solicitations for credit cards or bills you no longer need. If you do become a victim, contact your creditors immediately, Hammond says. Also, notify all three national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

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