Each year, approximately 10 million Americans are affected by identity theft. It is the most common consumer fraud complaint and the fastest growing financial crime. Victims spend an average of two years and thousands of dollars to clean up the damage that is caused by identity theft. Some of them will lose jobs, be refused loans, or even be arrested for crimes they never committed.
Victims can be any age and often children are targeted since most parents do not check their childrens credit reports. It is not until the child applies for credit themselves that they discover that their credit is destroyed before they ever got to use it.
How to Protect Yourself
-Safeguard your personal information. Your social security number, bank account information, credit card numbers, and passwords should be inaccessible to others. If you employee outside help in your home, such as housekeepers or even babysitters, be sure your information is secure.
-Use your social security number as little as possible. When asked to provide your social security number for something, ask if you can use another form of identifying information. Do not put your social security number or telephone number on a check when making payments.
-Limit what you carry on you. Do not keep your bank account numbers or social security card in your wallet. Only bring them when you absolutely need them. Only carry the credit cards that you plan to use. Keep copies of everything you have in your wallet that contains personal information and immediately report to the proper places if your wallet is ever stolen.
-Find out how personal information will be used. When asked to supply personal information, ask exactly how it will be used and who it will be shared with. Make sure they know you do not want them to share your information with anyone else.
-Place passwords on all of your accounts. Passwords keep someone who does steal your information from being able to access the account by simply having your basic information. Be sure to use a password that is not commonly used (mother's maiden name, date of birth, etc). You can password protect your credit cards, bank accounts, and utility accounts.
-Properly dispose of documents. Be sure to shred (cross cut shredders are best) or burn any papers with person information on them and any preapproved credit offers. To further protect yourself, dispose of the shreddings in a bag with dirty diapers and/or rotten food or saucy foods.
-Protect your mail. Place outgoing mail in a collection box or at the post office and be sure to collect incoming mail promptly. Try to avoid having checks mailed to you by using direct deposit whenever possible.
-Be careful when using ATMs. People around you can not only steal your PIN, but can take a picture of your ATM card and steal the number. Also, check the slot where you insert the card. If it looks odd, do not use it! There is a device that can be placed over the correct slot and it steals your information, yet allows you to bank as normal so you are unaware.
-Reduce the number of credit card offers you receive. Call 1-888-5OPTOUT and have your name removed from marketing lists. Be sure to have your financial institutions not share your information with non-affiliated companies.
Part 2 of this article, with more ways to protect yourself, will be posted next Monday and Part 3, with what to do if your identitiy is stolen, will be posted the following Monday.
I am using a brochure from the New York State Consumer Protection Board, titled A Consumer Guide to Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft, as a resource for these articles.