Identity Theft Prevention — Practical Tips
Unfortunately, Identity Theft is not just a hilarious movie. In fact, it’s not funny at all when it happens to you. Alas, it’s an everyday occurrence that you should be concerned about. Although you would love to never write your Social Security number down or always follow the waiter to the back while he swipes your credit card, this is not practical. But, you can do little things to help protect your identity and hopefully keep someone from vacationing on your hard earned cash.
A good portion of identity protection boils down to being frugal with your private information. In today’s society, this is very difficult. Of course, no one has the perfect solution, but hopefully the following list will provide you some helpful tips:
1. Shred your personal documents. Don’t just tear them up, invest in a shredder. Shredded paper documents also make great kindling for a fire in the winter months, too. If it’s personal, don’t leave it for someone to find.
2. Do not leave personal items in your vehicle. People routinely comment that their purse, briefcase, backpack or computer was stolen along with all of their personal information.
3. Do NOT carry your Social Security card with you.
4. Be aware of your surroundings. When getting money out of the ATM, that kid behind you that looks out of place, just might actually be out of place. Protect your PIN number, even if that means waiting to be the last in line.
5. Be skeptical. Maybe this is profiling, but if you are out and the cashier or waiter looks questionable, just pay with cash. The last thing you want is your card going off with an unscrupulous waiter who snaps a picture of it while running your transaction.
6. Compare your receipts with your bills, bank statements, etc.
7. Know your billing cycles. If your bill never arrives one month, contact the provider.
8. Limit the number of cards you carry. Less to keep up with; less to be stolen.
9. Use a secure website when making payments. Look for the “https” in front of the web address. The “s” stands for secure. You can be on a website shopping and the address might read “http” or “www” but as soon as you go to your shopping cart, to check out, it should always read “https”. When finished, don’t forget to LOG OUT.
10. Make sure YOUR Internet connection is SECURE. Have a password for your wireless router so you’re not providing internet to your entire community and making it available to the bad guys.
11. Change your passwords periodically and pick a strong password. This is very important if you file your taxes electronically or have extremely personal information accessible via a password. Try to be clever with passwords by including letters, numbers, symbols, etc.
12. Invest in computer security. This includes security software such as antivirus and spam filters.
13. Don’t give out your information over the phone. Avoid giving credit card numbers, bank account numbers, driver’s license numbers, etc. over the phone, unless it’s a dire emergency. This is especially true when receiving an unsolicited call or inquiry.
14. Avoid telemarketers. DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION.
15. Consider carrying a credit card rather than a debit card. This offers extra protection if it is stolen. If someone gets your debit card and manages to use it, that is money OUT of your account. You notify the bank and they conduct an investigation, which can take time while your balance potentially remains affected. Alternatively, if someone gets your credit card, you call the card company and inform them of the stolen card or fraudulent charges. Most likely, the fraudulent charges will never show up on your next statement and they overnight you a brand new card in the mail. No money out of your account, no headache. In fact, if the card company is a credible one, THEY NOTIFY YOU of suspicious activity on your card before you ever realize it took place.
16. Check your credit report. Credit bureaus can make mistakes and any unauthorized requests for credit should show up.
17. Keep your address current. If you move residences, update your address, forward your mail, etc. You do NOT want your personal information being delivered to the wrong address and landing in the wrong hands.
18. Consider having a locked mailbox or a post office box. This prevents public access to your mail.
19. File away personal documents. Try to not leave bank information, bills, etc. laying around your home for an intruder, handyman, or house cleaner to find — better to be safe than sorry.
20. Protect the identity of an estate. Just because someone is deceased does NOT mean their identity can not be stolen. A thief can find this to be an ideal situation because the person’s money situation may not be monitored as closely. If you oversee an estate, you still need to be concerned on protecting its identity.
21. Look into identity theft protection providers. You must weigh the cost versus benefits of their services, but they may offer another layer of protection.
22. Stay current on identity theft issues. The Federal Trade Commission has an excellent site with an abundance of information about identity theft. This is a good resource to supplement the helpful tips mentioned above.