How to Protect Against Identity Theft

How to Protect Against Identity Theft

Important Tips to Help Protect Your Identity

According to a 2014 CNN Money report, “Every two seconds another American becomes a victim of identity fraud.” In the United States alone, there was an increase of 500,000 identity fraud reports from 2012 to 2013 resulting in a total of 13+ million reports.

Last year, a majority of the identity fraud reports came as a result of the data breaches of large corporations such as Target, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus. Approximately one in three people who received notification that their identity was compromised in those breaches also received notification that their identity had been fraudulently used.

And, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it takes a victim of identity theft somewhere between 175 and 600 hours, and an average of $1,200.00 out-of-pocket, to recover. The Commission also stated that if a victim doesn’t report the fraud, the average loss per attack is in the neighborhood of $10,000.00.

Those are pretty scary statistics.

Some Ways Identities Are Stolen

As I was researching this story, I was amazed at the creative lengths thieves will go in order to steal someone’s identity. Often, it’s not the major data breach hackers that do the most damage, but the thief who either works alone or with a small team. Here are just a few of the ways they try to get your personal information:

  1. They’ll rummage through your personal trash, a businesses trash…or even go to a dump.
  2. They may work for — or pretend to work for — companies you do business with, all in an effort to get your personal information. That includes drugstores, medical offices and clinics, government agencies, etc.
  3. hey call you, pretending to be someone from an institution you trust, such as your bank.
  4. They’ll even try to disguise themselves as a friend, or a friend of a relative – and try to stay in your home.

So How Can You Protect Yourself?

  1. Protect your social security card or government issued ID. If you don’t have to, don’t carry it in your wallet and don’t write the number on a check…even if asked to.
  2. If you have a PIN, don’t make it an easy combination that someone could guess, such as your birthdate, address, etc. and don’t write it on the credit card or on a piece of paper that you carry with you. The same goes with passwords.
  3. If you’re in a store paying by debit card, even though most machines now have protective shields, use your body to even further shield the numbers you’re putting in.
  4. Here’s one I never, ever thought about, but it’s an absolute treasure trove for identity thieves — your mailbox. Most people don’t have locked mailboxes which makes it easy for thieves to take your mail and get your information. Some thieves, when caught, have said that they scan the mail, get the information, then put the mail back…with you none the wiser. So, collect your mail as promptly as you can when it’s delivered, and if you’re going to be away for more than a day or two, have the post office hold your mail.
  5. Keep a list at home of your credit card bill pay cycles. That way, if a bill is late, or doesn’t come, you can contact the institution.
  6. Keep receipts for everything you purchase, then when the bills arrive you can compare your receipts against the statement. If something is inaccurate, call the company immediately.
  1. If you have online access to your bank account, check it daily for unauthorized transactions. I found several unauthorized items a few months ago, none of which was more than $4.00. Thieves count on your not reporting those to the bank since they’re so small. Just imagine how much money is involved if a thief charges $4.00 against 20,000,000 accounts!
  2. Tear up – or better yet – buy a shredder and shred receipts you’re not keeping, expired credit cards, credit card offers, basically anything that has any identifying information on it. Doing this will definitely keep the dumpster divers from getting your information.
  3. Make sure your personal information is in a safe place both at home and at work. I keep mine in a safe at home. When I worked in an office, I kept it in a locked file drawer.
  4. Don’t ever give out personal information on the phone. As a matter of fact, unless it’s a number I recognize, I don’t even answer the phone. If it’s something legitimate, the caller will leave a voicemail.
  5. Additionally, don’t respond to emails you may get stating, “the bank needs to verify your identity, click here.” If you want to check it’s validity, either call the bank or go to the bank’s website directly from your browser, never from the email you receive. If you respond to the email, identity thieves could access your IP address and hack into your computer.
  6. Make sure your computer has up-to-date, effective firewalls, virus detecting and malware software. And if you get rid of your computer, make sure the hard drive is wiped clean of all data.
  7. Don’t open emails either from people you don’t know or if the email doesn’t make sense. Thieves are known to hack emails and send a phishing email to everyone on that person’s list. Usually the email doesn’t make sense, but there’s a link to click on. They count on people not thinking and just clicking, so if you get an email from someone you know and it makes no sense, don’t open it or click on the link.
  8. Get your credit report at least once a year. If you think someone has hacked your computer or gotten personal information, check your credit report more often.
  9. If you shop online, make sure the site is legitimate. Don’t go to the site from a random email you may have received.
  10. Also, make sure the site has encrypted security. If the security symbols aren’t present (they’re the lock encryption icons), then do not give your credit card information.

What should you do if you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft?

  1. Call your bank, credit card companies, etc. and report it. Ask them to freeze those accounts and issue new cards.
  2. Call your local police department immediately and report the theft. Keep a copy of the police report for future use.
  3. Send a letter to all of the credit reporting agencies asking them to put a fraud alert on your account. That keeps merchants from opening new accounts in your name without your express approval.
  4. Complete an identity theft affidavit. You can search “Identity Theft Affadavit” online or find information available at FTC Complain Assistant. The credit reporting bureaus, as well as most merchants, have agreed to accept the affidavit.

Methods to Watch For

Identity thieves particularly target baby boomers and seniors because they think we’re easy pickings! We’re not, but here are a few of their methods to look out for:

  1. You may receive a call offering products, benefits, services, etc. If the caller asks for your personal information (birthdate, Medicare number, social security number, etc.), you can pretty much rest assured that it’s fraudulent.
  2. Be sure you know who’s preparing your tax returns.
  3. Be aware and review all medical statements that are sent to you. Often, identity thieves try to fraudulently bill for services in your name.
  4. If you, or a loved one, are in a nursing home or long term care facility, be acutely aware. This is an environment that’s ripe for fraud.

Identity Theft Prevention

Lastly, if you can, two of the surest ways to deal with identity theft before it happens is to:

  1. Enroll in an identity theft protection service, such as Lifelock, Identity Force or Identity Guard and
  2. Buy an RIFD blocking wallet, passport holder, etc. You can find information and products at ID Stronghold or Amazon.