“Oh, it can’t happen to me!” said the 9+ million people a year who have been victims of identity theft. It happens, and it happens more often than we care to believe. You don’t have to sit up each night worrying that you may become a victim, if you take a few simple steps to protect your information.
Personal Information is the Key
The first step you need to take is to limit the access to your personal information. Consider the people in a position of “need to know” such as your family members or banker. As you analyze your information, you will recognize that on a base level some information is generally known (address, phone number), while your birthdate should be known by even fewer people, and at the top of the pyramid, only a few select people should have access to your social security number (family members, banker, etc.). Control your personal information (name, social security number, birthdate, address, and phone number).
The second step that you need to take is to protect that information. There are a number of ways that identity thieves can work, and each one of these should be a big red flag for you:
• Stealing is probably the most prevalent. They can steal your purse or wallet which are filled with all kinds of personal information and credit cards. Before this happens, take everything that you feel you must carry out of your wallet and make a copy of everything. Easiest way is to lay out your credit cards, driver’s license, health cards, passport, etc. on the copy machine, make copies of both sides of the material, and then tuck those copies away somewhere secure (such as a personal safe in your home). Then, if the worst should happen and your purse is stolen, you can immediately contact the appropriate agencies. Thieves just need a little time to set their plans in motion, so act right away.
• Cross-shred everything with your name, address, and any personal information on it. Dumpster diving is a viable source for gathering personal information, and even if you strip-shred your info, you are not safe.
• Skimming is becoming more common across the nation. This is a little device that thieves will insert in an automatic pay machine, such as a gas station pump. You can’t see it, and this little demon will collect your credit card info for the thief.
• Phishing is another source of personal information. You receive an email which looks legitimate from your “bank” telling you to click on the link and provide them with some information “right now.” What you may not realize is that identity thieves are very good at copying the official emails of legitimate businesses, and then add links to collect your information into their nefarious system. NEVER click on a link from an organization, especially if they are asking for your personal information. Go directly to their official website or call the business—VERIFY that the business needs the information which has been requested. Then delete the offending email, or better yet, submit it to your Better Business Bureau.
• If you stop receiving bills and other mail, someone has submitted a change of address for you and diverted your mail to their place. Go to the Post Office and find out what is happening.
Once an identity thief has your personal information, they can take out loans (including home loans), open all kinds of credit accounts, write bad checks, and create havoc with your personal credit. This chaos can affect your employment, insurance, and driver’s license. In additional to the emotional toil, you could end up on sex offender or terrorist watch lists or be wanted for illegal activities.
Prevention is the Best Course of Action
Best way to avoid this huge problem is to prevent it. Prevention includes the steps mentioned above, plus regularly review your personal credit information, credit card and bank statements. Never use your social security number for identification. Have strong passwords for any internet sites, and definitely do not enter your credit card or personal information on any site which is not encrypted. You can tell if a site is encrypted by the little padlock symbol by the search bar, as well as seeing https:// in the url. When using an unsecured internet connection such as in a hotel or library, never go to your bank or credit card sites or store your personal information on such a computer. Your personal information should only be on a computer that you personally control access to. Guard your personal information like it is gold—which it is.
Once you lose control of your personal, critical information, it is extremely difficult to gain back that control. Jeff Fouts, Tax Lawyer, can help you to correct and rebuild this part of your life. You will need the expert advice of Mr. Fouts to guide you through the mayhem that the bad guys can cause.