In the fight against cybercrime, there are a wide variety of tools and tactics, many of them requiring advanced degrees in computer engineering, to defeat the bad guys.
But you don’t have to be a white-hat hacker to keep cybercriminals from stealing your identity. This holiday season, even the least tech-savvy among us can work to keep an identity thief at bay; in fact, there are a number of helpful hints that don’t require any special skills or training, but that can be very effective in the war against identity theft.
What’s in the Mail? – One of the most low-tech forms of identity protection is unfortunately one of the most overlooked, and that’s your mailbox. Believe it or not, in the early days of identity theft—even before it was a widely known crime that affects millions of people—your mailbox was the main gateway to your identity. One common tactic was to steal your outgoing mail and wash the ink off your checks to forge them. Another common form involved the incoming mail, specifically those pesky credit card offers. By stealing those, identity thieves could open new lines of credit in their victims’ names. The victims only found out when the bill collectors started calling or when they tried to apply for a legitimate line of credit and were turned down. Unfortunately, these low-tech tricks are still a preferred method of identity theft for criminals who also don’t have the computer skills to hack someone’s identity.
Don’t Discard Those Papers – Another great low-tech form of identity protection is a gift you can use all year long. Investing a little bit of money in a home-use crosscut shredder will give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing your important papers, bank statements, health insurance statements, medical paperwork, and more will never fall into the wrong hands. Want another great reason to shred your important papers before discarding? Give your local human society a call to verify this in your area, but a number of facilities gladly accept donations of your shredded paper. What do they do with it?
They use the shreds to line the cages of animals waiting for their new forever homes! What better way to get rid of identifying papers than to shred them and make a waiting-for-adoption pet feel clean and comfortable every day? There’s one final shredding option, and it’s another great charitable organization that could use your support, both at the holidays and throughout the year: United Cerebral Palsy centers in locations around the country run adult day programs that provide supervision and employment to developmentally disabled adults. This shredding program, called Gone for Good, funds the activities of the day program for these really great people. Just bring your papers to be shredded, and you’ll be providing much-needed funds and a very real job to a deserving person.
Know Your Score – You’ve probably seen commercials about the importance of knowing your credit score, and with good reason. Your credit reports will give you a one-by-one listing of any activity involving your credit, which lets you know right away if anything suspicious is going on. Even better, knowing your credit score itself can help keep you from being scammed when you go to make a major purchase. If you’re financing a car or other high-dollar item, for example, one particularly tasteless scam is for the salesman to process your paperwork and then claim you have a much-lower credit score. He may then tell you that your poor credit means you only qualify for the higher interest rate; of course, the company will borrow the money at their own better rate and pocket the difference between the two rates.
If you know your score before you go in—it’s even better if you have a copy of your report with you—you can avoid this scam (and hopefully make the salesman feel pretty small for trying to take advantage of people!). One of the best tactics for staying on top of your credit report is to stagger your requests. You’re already entitled to one free credit report each year, but your credit is actually determined by three different reporting agencies. That means you’re actually entitled to three free reports each year, one from each agency. If you request one in January, another one in May, and the third one in September, for example, you’ll have an ongoing view of your report.