Identity theft has become a major concern in recent years. It occurs when another individual uses your personal information, like your Social Security number, to commit fraud or other white-collar crimes. It’s estimated that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Yikes!
With the majority of things now done electronically (making it easier for thieves to use your information quickly), you should be extra cautious when doing even the most basic tasks.
In order to help you fend off identity theft, I have compiled a list of 9 easy tips for you to follow. These can be completed with ease!
1. Clean Out Your Wallet
People do not realize how much information is in their wallet.
Many Americans carry several credit/debit cards, a driver’s license, insurance cards, and other personal items in their wallets. Some people even carry their Social Security card with them! If your wallet were to be stolen, the thief would have all of the information that they need. They would have your name, address, Social Security number and major credit card number.
It’s recommended that you take as much personal information out of your wallet or purse as possible. You should only be carrying one major credit and debit card, your drivers license, insurance cards and other discount cards. You should NEVER carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
Only carrying one credit card will help you keep track of them better. If you are carrying 7 credit cards, you may not notice if one were to go missing. That’s just what the thief wants to happen. The more time you don’t know it’s missing, the longer you will keep the account open for them to spend away.
2. Keep an Eye on Your Statements
Keeping a close watch on your bank and credit card statements will allow you to notice problems before they become too large to handle. If you notice an inconsistency, let your bank or credit card company know as soon as possible. The sooner you let them know, the better your chance of having limited liability on the charges. You should be checking these quite frequently as you begin budgeting.
3. Buy Yourself a Paper Shredder
This is one of the most important steps as many identity thieves are dumpster divers. In other words, they rummage through your garbage in search of documents with your personal information on them. Shredding all of these documents stops them dead in their tracks.
I recommend getting a middle of the road shredder from Amazon for about $70. It can handle more pages and has a large basket so you don’t have to empty it as much. It’s also a micro shredder which makes the paper almost impossible to put back together. However, if the price is a little high for your budget, a more basic one will do the trick. It’s better to have a cheap one than none at all!
You can also guard against dumpster divers by decreasing your junk mail. Call the three credit bureaus at 1-888-5OPTOUT and have them take you off the pre-approved credit marketing lists. You may also go to their combined website to complete the task faster. This step will eliminate half of your shredding!
4. Check Your Credit Report Often and For Free
Your credit report contains your Social Security number, present and prior employees, account numbers from creditors, etc. Monitoring this will help you spot inconsistencies quickly. If you find one, make sure you contact the credit bureaus to dispute the charge, late fee, new account, etc. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
I recommend checking your credit report every three months at www.annualcreditreport.com. This is a free service offered by the three credit bureaus. Avoid companies such as freecreditreport.com because you must first sign up for their credit monitoring service (which costs $) before getting the report.
5. Secure Your Passwords
Do not place all of your security passwords on a piece of paper and carry it around with you. That’s like giving the keys of your car to a car thief and saying “take it”.
Try as hard as you can to memorize all of your passwords but be sure to omit personal information from them. Do not make your bank account password your date of birth, anniversary, pets name, etc. They are what thieves will try first. If you must write down passwords, place them in a fireproof safe in your home and have it bolted to the concrete floor. Yes, your passwords are that important!
6. Don’t Give Out Personal Information to People You Don’t Know
Sounds ridiculous right?
Well, many individuals do just that on a daily basis. Whether it’s people giving their bank account number to a Saudi Prince that contacted them through their email or a “creditor” that called them at 9:00 PM, it happens often.
Whatever you do, do not give out your personal information to anyone unless you initiated the call and know who you are talking to. If someone calls your home and asks you to verify your account by giving your Social Security number, do not do it. Ask if you can call the company directly and solve the matter. If they agree, do not call the number that they give you. Make sure you look up the number for the company yourself.
7. Wipe Your Computer Data Clean
Selling or donating a computer? Make sure you delete all information off of it beforehand.
Deleting a file, partitioning a disk, or formatting your hard drive will not erase hard drive data. I repeat, just reformatting your hard drive will not erase personal information from your hard drive.
Because of this, many identity thieves have been targeting used and donated computers. Shield yourself from this by doing a complete hard drive erase using a program such as WipeDrive.
8. Skip the Mailbox
If you have something to mail, take it straight to the post office (or one of the blue USPS boxes). Letting mail sit in your mailbox is asking for trouble.
For your incoming mail, invest in a mailbox that locks. That way, your mail will be safe and sound inside the box where no one can get it. They can run a little pricey but it does not compare to the amount of money you may lose if your identity is stolen.
Going on vacation? Have the post office hold your mail until you return. This way you do not have a stockpile of mail in your box.
9. Know Who to Call If You Suspect Fraud
If something looks strange on your credit report, chances are you are a victim of credit fraud. Having copies of all of your account numbers and customer service numbers (in a locked safe of course), will make the process of reporting fraud much easier. It also pays to call them ASAP because it will help limit your liability in the matter.
The Federal Trade Commission also has a great section on identity theft and how to handle the aftermath.
* * * * *
Identity theft is no laughing matter. Just ask the estimated 9 million individuals that have had their identity stolen over the past year. Follow these steps and stop identity theft in its tracks. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Do you have any additional tips to share? Leave a comment!