Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2006 there are 246,035 people who submitted complaints to the FTC regarding identity theft. With these kinds of numbers, identity theft is not going away any time soon.
Having your Social Security number, driver’s license, credit card numbers, and any personal information stolen from you can produce unwanted frustration and serious problems. You can be turned down for bank and home loans, credit cards, and even a job. Your credit score can suffer and debt collectors can be after you for debt you don’t even know about. Your financial stability can crumble instantly.
Although there is no way you can control everything around you, there are measures you can take to lower your risk for identity theft.
Understanding how identity theft happens is something you should familiarize yourself with:
- Actual theft of your purse/wallet. Most people carry in their purses things like wallets, a driver’s license, credit cards, and other valuable information about themselves and/or family like pictures, a date book, and a cell phone.
- Identity thieves often forage through garbage trying to find unwanted personal documents.
- Hacking and stealing personal information from your computer.
- Skimming most often begins with someone storing credit card information on a device or recording credit card information from receipts and other customer files. This can also happen through phishing e-mails that ask you to click on a link, and then input your username and password for your financial institution, eBay, and PayPal accounts, just to name a few.
- Home theft.
- Thieves sometimes impersonate bank or government officials or claim that they are from some organization that needs your personal information for official use.
Make sure you obtain a copy of your credit report at least twice a year. You can contact any of the big three credit reporting agencies to request your credit report for free:Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you’ve recently been turned down for a credit card or loan, request a credit report for free.
Closely monitor all your financial accounts, including your bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage, and vehicle lease. If you haven’t signed up for online banking yet, do it today. This is an easy way for you to quickly analyze any activity and charges that have occurred. You can also do this with your credit cards, mortgage, and lease accounts.
Invest in a good quality paper shredder. Forget the shredders that only cut documents into strips or even into confetti. Either option allows for an identity thief to easily piece together your documents and obtain any information about you. Choose a paper shredder that cross-cuts your documents. This option is the most secure and difficult to put back together into a single document.
Pay attention to what gets thrown into the garbage. Get into the habit of always shredding all your paper items: credit card offers, magazine subscription offers, bills, legal documents, etc. Never throw away your old credit cards or driver’s license into the trash. These cards should also be shredded — most shredders have a credit card insert option available.
Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. By singing up for this government service (handled by the Federal Trade Commission), you can stop most telemarketers from calling your home.
Relieve your home of unnecessary waste and any extra temptation for identity thieves by minimizing the amount of junk mail that comes in. Credit card offers, magazine subscription queries, and a host of other mail come in that you just don’t need. Companies like Do Not Mail, GreenDimes (they’ll even plant a tree on your behalf) can assist you in lowering the amount of junk mail your receive daily.
Keep personal information private. Don’t just give out your information to anyone and everyone. Don’t leave your personal identification numbers (PIN) in places that can be easily discovered, like your wallet or on top of your desk. Avoid having your Social Security information on checks or other documents that can be seen by anyone. Never carry your Social Security card with you — leave it at home. Memorize your Social Security number so you won’t have to refer to your card.
Make copies of all credit cards and identification cards in your wallet. Should your wallet ever be stolen, it will be easier for you to call the corresponding credit card companies to alert them of theft. Also, instead of writing your signature on the back of your ATM, debit and credit cards, write “photo ID required.” Should retailers or restaurants look at this, they will require the person who presents this card to provide a photo ID. If the card falls into the wrong hands, it will be more difficult for the thief to produce a driver’s license with your name and signature.
Be careful what information you give on the Internet. If you receive any emails from people you do not know, don’t open it and do not click on links — this could be a phishing scam. Install software to protect your computer from any viruses. There is also software that allows you to surf the Internet anonymously. Whenever you are on the Internet, you leave behind footprints that can trace back to your computer and to your personal information.
As technology advances, so do the efforts of identity thieves. Protect yourself. Protect your family.