So your dear old grandma, who’s in the nursing home, bought a new Harley and appears to have gone on a road trip down to Daytona. Yeah, I didn’t think so. Identity theft is a major concern for many people, and rightfully so. Stealing someone’s identity is easier than ever due to Internet shopping, more sophisticated means of gleaning information from credit cards, and people’s ignorance on how little information is needed in order to steal your identity. According to safeidentityprotection.com, your name and address or date of birth is really all an identity thief needs in order to get started on hijacking your personal financial information.
There are many ways that identity thieves can obtain personal information about you. The simplest is finding a lost wallet or credit card, or stealing these items from an unsuspecting victim. Thieves also rummage through garbage cans for financial records or other documents with sensitive information on them. Other ways thieves obtain this information include calling unsuspecting people and pretending to offer them deals on vacations or low-interest rate loans, but requiring personal information in order to proceed. There is also a practice called “phishing” where the thief uses malware to comb your computer for personal information. In other cases, “phishing” tricks the victim into providing personal information on what appears to be a “legitimate” website or some other electronic correspondence. In some instances, thieves have a hand-held scanner they can use to simply swipe your credit or debit card – it retrieves all of the information on the card so a new card can be produced using your account information.
So what can you do to protect yourself? The FBI’s website offers several preventative measures for people to take.
- Shred credit card receipts, old bank statements, and other financial documents. If you do not have a shredder then be sure that you cut these documents up with scissors to help deter would-be thieves.
- NEVER provide personal information via telephone, e-mail, or regular mail unless you initiated the contact with the entity requesting the information.
- Always store your personal information in a safe place.
- Protect PINs and passwords. A password-protected Excel spreadsheet is a good way to keep track of all of your passwords and login information.
- Carry only the minimum amount of identifying information (never carry social security cards on you).
- Remove your name from all mailing lists for pre-approved credit cards and telemarketers.
- Order and closely review biannual copies of your credit report and review your monthly bank statements.
- Request that the DMV issue an alternate license number if you currently use your social security number.
- BE AWARE!
If you are a victim of identity theft, be sure to contact your bank/credit card companies to notify them of any unauthorized charges. If new accounts have been set up in your name that you have not authorized, be sure to contact those companies immediately and notify them via telephone and in writing of the fraud. Also contact the police in the community where the identity theft is believed to have occurred. Be sure that you document the names of people you speak to, as well as a summary of the call and the date in which the call took place. Some insurance carriers provide coverage for legal fees and fees for filing paperwork to have your credit restored. Check with your insurance agent to see if you have coverage and how it applies.