Steps You Can Take to Stop Thieves Stealing Your Identity
Being a victim of identity theft can be a nightmare. If a thief steals your identity and uses it to obtain goods on credit or commit offenses in your name, you may have problems with not just your finances and credit, but with the law. The trouble that identity theft can cause you takes time, stress and effort to rectify. Taking steps to protect yourself against identity theft is essential.
There are many things you can do, and not do, to ensure that you are less likely to be a victim of identity fraud. Being aware of them, and being constantly vigilant, can save you problems in the future.
Be security conscious:
- Don't leave wallets or purses, bank cards, checkbooks, credit receipts or documents containing sensitive personal information in your vehicle. Thieves intending to use your credit can, for example, find your credit card number on receipts from purchase you have made.
- Don't throw receipts in public trash cans. Take them home and either keep them safe, if you need them, or get rid of them securely.
- Keep any bank cards that you don't need to carry with you, your passport, driving license and any other sensitive documents in a secure place at home. If you are burgled you don't want to make it easy for the thieves to steal your identity.
Don't give out your personal information without good reason:
- Be careful about who you give your Social Security number out to. Try to use different types of identification if you can and only give your Social Security number out when necessary to trusted requesters.
- Avoid putting either your Social Security number, or your driving license number, on checks.
- Don't give out your personal details over the phone, unless you made the call yourself. Bogus callers trying to steal your identity often pose as representatives of official organizations or agencies to try and obtain bank details, passwords, Social Security numbers and other information that they can use to assume your identity.
- You should also ensure that your creditors are not able to sell on your personal information. This is especially dangerous as your sensitive personal details can then be disseminated by identity clearinghouses, and other agencies, pretty much indiscriminately. Your personal information may even end up being published online. You have the right to stop your creditors from passing on your personal information. Consult the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (at privacyrights.org) for sample letters that you can use to do this.
- Credit reporting agencies also sell personal details and information about your financial status to retailers of goods and credit. Again, this disclosure of your information can lead to it being published online, making life simple for thieves planning on identity fraud. You should make sure that you prevent this by contacting all credit reporting agencies and choosing to 'opt out' of this practice.
Don't carry sensitive personal information with you unnecessarily:
- Health insurance cards, for example, sometimes have Social Security numbers printed on them. Ask your health insurance provider for one that doesn't show your Social Security number and carry that with you instead.
- While it is a legal requirement in some countries such as Canada, New Zealand and some European countries, that you carry your driver's license with you, it is not in the United States. Driving licenses are often used by identity thieves to assume your identity, so avoid carrying it with you unless absolutely necessary.
Be careful with your mail and financial garbage:
- Mail is an easy and commonly targeted source for thieves that want to assume your identity. Avoid using insecure, or unlocked, mail boxes. Instead ensure that your mail is delivered to somewhere secure.
- You should also avoid putting mail (payments for bills, especially), in unlocked mailboxes for collection by the postal service.
- Buy a decent cross-cut paper shredder and shred financial garbage such as letters offering you pre-approved credit and credit receipts, for example. It is also wise to shred any paper documents that contain your personal information if you no longer need them. Mail that is not shredded and simply discarded in the trash is an easy source of personal information for potential identity thieves.
Use debit/credit cards and checks carefully:
- Don't carry more checks with you each day than you know you will need. Keep all of your blank checks at home in a secure place, preferably in a locked safe. Similarly, avoid carrying all of your credit/debit and other cards with you unnecessarily. Just take with you the ones that you will need.
- Avoid using debit cards or checks for online shopping. Once money has been stolen from your bank account, recovering it can be problematic. It is best to keep just one credit card for making payments over the internet. You should always use a secure browser when making payments and contest any unauthorized charges that appear on your bill when you receive it.
- Don't write down your ATM PINs. Take the time to remember them instead. If your memory isn't great, get your PINs changed to something that is easier for you to remember personally (but not for someone else to guess!).
- Be aware of strangers behind, or near, you when you are using your ATM cards. They may be thieves attempting to find out your PIN. Also take notice of anything unusual about the ATM machine itself. Identity fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated and thieves sometimes tamper with ATM machines to gain access to sensitive financial information.
- Cancel credit cards and accounts that you don't use. This way they can't be used by identity thieves.
Be vigilant with your financial accounts and records:
- Check credit bills and bank statements as soon as you receive them. Read them carefully and phone up to contest, or check the legitimacy, of any items or entries that you don't think you have authorized.
- Make a note of all debit/credit card (and other card) numbers, along with the phone numbers of the issuers, and keep them in a safe place at home. Also make a note of just the emergency numbers that you ring in the event that the cards are stolen and carry this with you (separately from the cards, of course). The sooner you can report stolen cards, the better.
Despite taking steps to protect yourself from identity theft, it is always possible that it can happen to you. You should make sure that you have adequate insurance for any losses that you may occur in the event that you do become an unfortunate victim of identity fraud.