The following is excepted from my first book, Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck:
Identity theft, the stealing of another individual’s personal information in order to commit illegal financial transactions, is a major problem today. Reviewing your credit reports annually is one way to monitor suspicious activity. In addition, there are other tactics to consider. Some of these tips might seem obvious, but people do make these mistakes and I don’t want you to be one of them.
- Use a crosscut shredder to shred all those credit card solicitations arriving in the mail each day. If you don’t, someone can go through your trash (or recyclables) and accept your pre-approved credit card.
- Choose to receive your current monthly paper statement as an electronic statement instead. This way, no one can find something valuable in your trash or mailbox, such as a statement with your name, account number, and other useful information. Save the electronic statement on your hard-drive and put a password on your computer.
- Be very careful online. Look for the “s” at the end of https in the address bar before submitting any confidential information.
- Also online, don’t respond to emails you receive which ask you to verify account data, such as your name or account number. Such fraudulent contacts are known as phishing. I am unaware of any bank, brokerage house, credit card company, and so forth who asks for your identifying information unsolicited by email. When in doubt about an email correspondence, call the financial institution. Don’t call the number listed in the potentially phony email; call the one listed on the back of your card or on your last statement. The customer support representative can tell you if the email is legitimate. It won’t be.
- The last online tip is the most obvious but least taken to heart. Your account passwords shouldn’t be your kid’s name. Duh. It shouldn’t be on a post-it note in your wallet or on the side of the computer either. Double duh. Make your password something not easily figured out and memorize it. If your password looks suspiciously like your email address, it’s probably not a good password.
- Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet. If your wallet is stolen, the thief probably isn’t going to have such a high level of integrity as to limit the take to the credit cards and cash in your wallet-the thief is going to apply for more credit in your name. Bigger payday for the thief and an even bigger headache for you.
If you haven’t been a victim of identify theft yourself, you probably know someone who has. It’s that common. And victims would tell you what an ordeal identity theft is and that it seems to take forever to straighten everything out. It’s worth being careful in order to reduce your odds of suffering from the theft of your identity.
Please share your identity theft experiences. Has it ever happened to you? To someone you know? When did it happen? Did you ever figure out how it happened?