Identity theft is when someone else uses your identity to benefit themselves. Like using your credit to purchase items, or using you credit to obtain things for the people who steal your identity.
Identity Theft in general has been increasing for years amongst the general population. In 2008 there were approximately 10 million identity theft victims in the US. This statistic increased approximately 25% from the 2007 figure. The average loss from identity theft is around $3,500, some of which is mitigated by fraud protection programs offered by financial institutions. Contact yours to find out how, or if, you are covered under their programs. There are additional losses accrued while trying to repair your identity security. These additional costs can be as high as $1000, if not higher. There are several things you can do to protect yourself as much as possible.
1. Secure your personal information and vital documents:
a. Store your information safely. Even in your own home. Obtain a lock box with a key and keep all your vital personal documents locked up. Just because your documents are in your home does not mean they are safe. Repairmen and other visitors you don’t know may visit your home. In nearly 50% of identity theft cases the theft was done by someone the victim knew. A bank safety deposit box is another effective solution. In either case, make sure your lawyer and select family members maintain access to this information in case of emergency.
b. Get a paper shredder and destroy the documents you don’t need that contain vital information. Do not throw away any important documents in the trash. Thieves will rummage through your trash to try to obtain these documents. Protect your trash and protect your mail as much as possible. Collect your mail everyday if it is delivered to a street box, or any other public place where others may have access to it. Do not leave mail lying around in public places like your work place.
c. Certain documents and information are more important to protect than others, like your social security number and banking and credit information. NEVER give this information to anyone via email or over the phone. Be very careful even giving this information to people you know personally. Consult with family members or lawyers before giving this information away.
d. Protect your digital information. It is becoming more and more common to store vital personal information on digital devices like computers and smart phones. Portable storage devices like jump drives are also becoming more likely places to store vital personal information. Never throw any digital storage device away before sanitizing the device. If at all possible add password protection to any device on which you store vital personal information.
e. Protect you information on your computer. Keep vital personal information protected by password access. Avoid storing personal information with online services or on websites. Keep an up to date virus and internet protection service on your computer. It is becoming more common every day for hackers to break into your home computer via the internet.
f. Use powerful passwords and protect them. The passwords you use to protect your digital devices should be strong ones. Use a good mix of capital letters, lowercase letters, and numerals. Do not repeat use of passwords. If someone steals your password for your computer and it is the same password you use to log onto your online bank account, they can then access your bank account as well. Store in a safe place (like the lock box mentioned earlier) a current list of your password and log on/in information. Store this list in at least 2 places, of at least one is on paper. Make sure at least 1 family member and your lawyer have access to a current list of passwords and log on/in information.
g. Never leave important documents or devices unattended anywhere, like in your vehicle.
2. Use common sense and be proactive with credit cards and checkbooks:
a. Always protect your credit cards, debit cards, and checkbook. Keep your cards and checkbook in your purse, wallet, or pockets at all times. Never give your purse or wallet to anyone to hold. If you carry a wallet it’s best to keep it in your front pocket. When paying by credit or debit card in places like restaurants, avoid letting the server take your credit card away and then return it. Pay at the desk or register if you can.
b. Get a second credit card for online purchases. Have it have a small limit. That way, if somehow the credit card information is stolen from the website, there will at least be a small limit on the amount that can be stolen. Some credit card companies provide an online service where you can generate a unique one time credit card number that can only be used for one purchase. If that card number is stolen, it will no longer be active. Once again, never give vital information like social security numbers away during online purchase processes. If you have any questions about this consult your lawyer.
c. Monitor your bank and credit accounts. Most services provide online access to accounts. Check them at least once a week for any unfamiliar purchases and immediately contact your institution to address the problem.
3. Understand what a “Credit Freeze” is:
a. In many states you have the right to “freeze” your credit. This will restrict access to your credit report. No one will have access to these credit freezes. This makes it very difficult for an identity thief to open any new accounts in your name. You can lift the freeze whenever you want. Click the link below to find out more information about credit freezes in your state, and how to begin the process of instigation a credit freeze…
4. Identity theft protection:
a. See the subtopic “Identity Theft Insurance” in the drop down on the upper right to learn more about Identity theft insurance.