Everyone is talking about Identity Theft these days and I can’t say that I blame them. Personally, I am a bit paranoid about it myself. There are ways to protect yourself and you are the only one that can do it.
If crooks get hold of your personal information, they can do a lot of damage to your personal life, they can effectively destroy you. I am not just talking about someone stealing you credit card numbers and going on a shopping spree. I am talking about literally destroying your life.
Just some of the examples are, taking out student loans, leasing a car in your nameand running away with it. Filing a false claim for income tax refunds. Imagine what it would do to your reputation to find that you are listed as an owner of an escort service!
If your dirty double gets arrested for drunk driving or theft, the offense will more than likely show up in a background check when you try to get a new job. It could also cause you to lose the employment that you currently have. It could cost you to lose your auto insurance, medical insurance and any number of other problems.
Identity theft does not just happen online and actually that is the lowest percentage of theft. More often one of these scenarios is what happens. Losing you wallet or having it stolen. Someone stealing your mail or getting hold of your checks. Information lifted from your trash, because you forgot to tear it up. Sometimes that doesn’t help; scotch tape can put a lot of papers back together.
There are ways to protect yourself and I hope you will heed these suggestions. The only person that can protect you is you and I can’t stress that enough.
Rip up any financial records before you toss them. When I say rip, I mean into very small pieces, then scatter them into several different trash cans around the house, so when you empty the trash into the main can for collection, the pieces will not end up all together. Better yet, buy a shredder, a crosscut is the best, but any shredder that will make the paper pieces small enough it would be difficult to put back together is fine. Don’t throw out all the paper from the shredder at one time, mix it up and distribute into the trash over several pick-up dates. You just want to make as hard for the thieves as possible.
Review your monthly bills and make sure you recognize any charges from utilities; especially phone and credit card companies. I always review my bill and save the one piece that I have to send back; then shred everything else. Be extra careful to shred those checks from the credit card companies. That is cash in a thief’s hands or pocket.
Keep an eye on your Social Security number. Memorize the number and remove anything in your wallet that has the number on it. Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks, that is an open invitation. I have seen this and frankly thought to myself “How stupid”. Sorry, but that is how I feel. I don’t have my phone number printed on them either and only give it out if it absolutely necessary. Be very careful who you give your Social Security number to; sometimes an alternate form of ID will work. If you are applying for a job, you have no choice.
Never disclose personal information by Web or phone to anyone who contacts you unsolicited. E-mails that appear to come from your bank or credit card company can be phony from copycat sites and are hoping to trick you into revealing your financial data and identity information. If you receive an e-mail like this, pick up the phone and call your bank or credit card company and find out if this is true. If it isn’t, then you are reporting a copycat and the bank or credit card company may ask you to forward the e-mail. That way they can possibly track the sender and put a stop to this thief.
Secure your computer. If you keep financial records on your computer, set up a password to make sure only you can access these files. Never use your computer to store the list of passwords you use for online banking or other financial Web sites. Hackers can get into your records, but you don’t want to make it easy for them. Protect yourself and your identity.
Always choose credit cards over debit cards. If a thief steals your credit card, you are liable for no more than $50.00 in unauthorized charges. With a debit card, it could be up to $500.00. If you neglect to report the loss of the card within 60 days, the loss of money to you could be what ever was stolen from you. That might include whatever is in you bank account. As soon as you report the loss, your credit card company should immediately close your account and open a new one for you with a different number. If they don’t do this automatically, then ask them to do it. Protect yourself.
Cancel those unused credit cards. If you do not get a regular statement each month, then they are difficult to monitor. Besides, if you don’t use them, why keep them?
Watch your checks, if you lose some;close the account and open a new one. Just putting a stop payment on the ones you lost might not do the trick. Ask your bank about how long the stop payment is good for. It might be permanent or it could just be for a certain amount of time.
Losing control of your identity is not always your fault. The organizations that compile, hold or sell your personal information can be shamefully careless about checking and protecting it. Retailers, employers, universities, government agencies, data brokers and credit card companies are all vulnerable. Some will inadvertently disclose your information online. Unfortunately and in general, third parties are not financially liable for circulating false information about you in a credit report or personal background check unless they fail to fix the error after you report the mistake. As a result, they don’t have much incentive to spend money on extra security. You are the one that has to protect your self and keep a careful watch. After all it’s your identity, protect it.
To spot trouble and guard against identity theft, take advantage of a new law. Once a year request a free credit report from each of the three major bureaus – Eqifax, Experian and TransUnion. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com for yours.
Warning, do not go to the credit bureau Web sites directly for your report. They will give it to you only when you buy one of their pricey credit-monitoring products.
I hope when you read this that I have made some sense to you. This is so very important and I felt I would be doing a disservice if I did not write something on the subject. I can only say to you. Dear Readers, be safe and smart, protect yourself and safe guard your identity.