Identity theft is an ever-growing problem. What follows are 5 simple steps anyone can easily take to reduce their risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Get that Social Security Card and birth certificate OUT of your wallet/purse/car: I can't stress this enough, if you're not going to get a passport or open a bank account, or process your new-hire paperwork for your next job TODAY, then why are your most sacred identity documents still floating around in your purse or wallet? I can't tell you how often the ITRC works with confirmed identity theft victims whose cases began out of a lost or stolen purse or wallet. Without an SSN or birth certificate, the theft of a wallet is a temporary inconvenience. You'll have cancel a few credit cards, maybe close a bank account or two, and get yourself a new license from the DMV. If on the other hand if either or both of those documents were inside the wallet or purse when stolen, congratulations; you'll now be at an exponentially greater risk for identity theft, and numerous other types of fraud....for the rest of your natural existence. That's not an exaggeration, once a birth certificate or SSN is compromised or exposed; there is NO perfect solution to putting humpty dumpty back together again. You've now forced yourself to become the paranoid, mildly panicky consumer you previously may have made fun of.
- Shred Your Mail: Most consumers don't pay attention to the plethora of personal information we throw away in our discarded mail. Our mail often contains vital information that is best protected from the public. Everything from account numbers, contact information, SSN's, dates of birth, tax id numbers, all can be found in your mailed correspondence. Invest in a shredder and make sure that any document that contains sensitive personal data makes it through the cross cutters before it goes to the trash. Having a locking mailbox is also a good idea.
- Check Your Credit Reports: I know you hear this all the time, from a thousand different places right? But do you really understand WHY checking your credit is a good idea? Think of it being similar to a financial X-ray - if you broke your ankle, you would go to the doctor to get it checked out. Chances are a medical professional knows your ankle is broken just from feeling it, but he orders the X-ray anyway. Why? Because the X-ray allows the doctor to identify precisely where the damage is, and hence the best/most appropriate remedy. A credit report is no different. It will show you if damage to your credit worthiness might exist, and may point out where the damage is coming from. Knowing that someone else is using your credit worthiness, and identifying the SOURCE of bad/fraudulent information is obviously the first step in getting it corrected. Checking your credit is the easiest way to find out if someone else is using your financial good name to acquire benefit, at your cost.
- Don't Send Personal Identifying Information (PII) to an Online Employer: Never give your SSN, bank account numbers, or any other personally identifying information (PII) to an employer you've never met in person. Searching online for jobs is a fast, convenient way to job search, but consumers should understand that this convenience is not without added risk. If you haven't had an in person meeting or at least a few phone conversations with your perspective employer, than why does he need your SSN? Make sure you know the organization that may be hiring you before giving any information. Job scams are a very common way for thieves to capitalize on the desperation of others, so make sure you're careful with what information you send and to whom you send it. A legitimate organization will almost always want an in-person interview before offering a job position.
- Don't Be Lazy with Passwords: Is your password to your online bank account the same as the one to your email, which is the same as the one to your social media page, which is the same as the one to your fantasy sports team? Password laziness is a key way scammers take advantage of you. They find a way to get access to a piece of information that on its own is harmless (maybe a name and the last 4 digits of your social). This seemingly harmless info may be enough to request a password for an online banking account. Now they have access to one account. From there, if you're not serious about your password selections, you might've just made it that much easier for a thief to gain access to your entire life online. Use capital letters and numbers, and change your passwords at regular intervals.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.