IDENTITY CRISIS: How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

By Andrew Wooten, President of S.A.F.E.

In the March 2011 issue of Michigan Realtor Magazine, *Andrew Wooten wrote about Identity Theft

 

Your credit score has significantly increased. You receive a bill for a credit card you don’t have. You go to apply for a car loan and are denied because of poor credit. You notice $0.01 charges in your checking account. What happened? Most likely, you’ve had your identity stolen.

Identity theft is when, by trickery or using publicly available data, someone obtains personal information about you, assumes your identity, and applies for credit cards, checking accounts or other financial access. The crook has become “you.” They can now go on a spending spree, using up your good credit and reputation.

To safeguard yourself, be vigilant about protecting your personal information. This means not giving out credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, your birth date, or even your mailing address over the phone unless you initiate the call. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail-and your trash-from thieves.

Multiple Methods

Thieves use a variety of methods to obtain your information including “dumpster diving,” where they go through your trash for mail or papers that contain personal information like your Social Security number on an old tax form or a mailing from your credit card company. These papers are a gold mine to an identity thief. You can block thieves by buying and using a shredder. Shred all documents containing personal information before you discard them.

Identity thieves also use “skimming,” “phishing” or just a simple change of address. Skimming is when someone steals credit or debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card. This can happen anywhere, so be sure to watch when they scan your card at a store, restaurant or gas station.

Phishing is when false financial institutions or companies send spam or pop-up messages on a website to get you to reveal your personal information. Remember: no legitimate company is going to ask for your personal information unless you contact them.

Finally, some thieves will divert your billing statements to another location by changing your address. Keep track of when you receive your bills and statements. If one doesn’t show up, contact the company immediately.

Lock Down Your Information

How can you protect yourself? Make these identity-protecting steps a habit:

  • Memorize your Social Security number and all your passwords and PINs.
  • Sign all your credit cards upon receipt and never loan your cards to anyone.
  • Save all your credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bills.
  • Report all lost or stolen credit cards immediately, and notify credit card companies and financial institutions in advance of any change in your address or phone numbers.
  • Order your credit report annually and inspect it for anything suspicious.
  • When you make Internet purchases, be sure it’s through a secure website.
  • When you complete a credit or loan application, you only need to list the last four digits of credit cards. This is enough information for creditors to match up what’s on your credit report.

Most importantly, protect yourself by leaving your “identity” at home, not in your wallet or purse. You should never carry around your birth certificate, passport, PINs or Social Security card. If you carry blank checks, carry only as many as you need and do not print your driver’s license number or Social Security number on your checks. Keep back-up records of all your credit card information in a secure place at home. Finally, don’t take out your wallet until you actually need it. Never put it down next to a cash register, on a bar or even on top of your car.

If you become aware of anyone using your identity, immediately notify the creditor involved, law enforcement authorities and the major credit bureaus.

In addition, be extremely wary of companies (even well-established, legitimate companies) that are selling monthly protection plans, there is no 100% guarantee! But, following these guidelines can help decrease the possibility of you becoming a victim of identity theft. For more information, contact S.A.F.E.

*Andrew Wooten is an author and professional speaker and has been in the safety and security industry for over 26 years. Visit the S.A.F.E. Website

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