Combating Identity Theft

You need some basic self-defense strategies to combat identity theft. Let’s take a look at some:

  • Your wallet or purse. Let’s begin here with the obvious. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse (unless you are visiting the Social Security office - in that case, remember to put it away when you get home). Next, look for other documents, which contain your Social Security number. For example, some states use that number as your driver’s license number. If that’s the case, ask your state motor vehicle department if they can assign you some other number on your license. Do the same thing whenever your Social Security number is used as an account number. If your Social Security number is on other documents, and you don’t need them every day, consider leaving them at home.
  • Credit/debit cards: Don’t carry one single card more than you really need every day. Many of us carry every credit/debit card we have, yet few of these cards get daily use. If you don’t have them on your person, they are a lot less likely to disappear.
  • Review your bank and credit card statements monthly for signs of suspicious activity.
  • If you aren’t using one or more credit cards, cancel them in writing with the issuing financial institution - then cut the card(s) into small strips before disposing.
  • Do not write your personal identification number (PIN) on the back of your credit card and don’t write it on a little sheet of paper you carry in your wallet or purse. You might as well give a thief the keys to your car (We’ll have more on PINs and passwords in our “Virtual World” section).
  • Instead of signing the back of your credit/debit card, write “check photo id” in the signature block. Many banks now issue credit/debit cards that display your photograph on the front. If that’s an option with your bank, consider doing it. Both of these practices make it more difficult for a thief to use your card in person.
  • Check your credit card bills and bank statements carefully every month, looking for activity you don’t recognize. Many banks now offer online banking services, allowing you to check transactions even more frequently. The quicker you spot a problem, the more you are able to limit the damage.
  • Add passwords to your credit card, bank and telephone accounts that are not the typical passwords, such as the last four digits of your Social Security number, your birth date or your mother’s maiden name. If you are opening a new account that requests your mother’s maiden name, use a password instead.
  • Make copies of the front and back of all your credit and debit cards, then place the copy in a secure location (not your wallet or purse, please). If your cards are stolen or lost, you’ll have all the relevant information you need to contact the card issuers and report the lost or stolen items. This, too, will help limit the damage.
  • Finally, a good deal of stolen personal information comes from “pre-approved credit” offers you receive in the mail - and then discard unopened. This allows a thief to use the application to apply for credit in your name. If you’d like to stop these “pre-approved credit” offers, you can do so.
  • Mailbox: A significant amount of identity theft happens within a few feet of your home - in your mailbox. Here are some important self-defense measures you can take:
  • Take your outgoing mail either to a local post office or deposit it in one of the postal service boxes in your neighborhood. If you leave outgoing mail in your own mailbox, you give a thief the opportunity to steal account numbers, checks and other valuable information.
  • Pick up your incoming mail as soon as possible after it is delivered. The longer it sits in your box, the greater the chance that it will be stolen.
  • If mailbox security is a concern within your neighborhood, consider asking your local post office about centralized mail delivery into locked boxes.
  • Finally, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers a quick “mailbox security quiz”, which you can take here.
  • Secure personal information in your home and in your workplace. Do not leave personal information in your car.
  • Remove your Social Security number from any identification you carry, such as checks, a driver license or your health insurance card. Both your health insurance company and the Department of Motor Vehicles will give you a new number if you request it.
  • Before providing identifying information, especially your Social Security number, ask if the information is required.
  • Never give out personal information to someone who contacts you by phone or via e-mail, even if it seems legitimate. Call the company back using a phone number from a bill (not a phone number the person who is calling gives you) or go to the home page of the company’s Web site by typing the URL into your browser.
  • Add passwords to your credit card, bank and telephone accounts that are not the typical passwords, such as the last four digits of your Social Security number, your birth date or your mother’s maiden name. If you are opening a new account that requests your mother’s maiden name, use a password instead.
  • Check your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, at least twice a year and correct any inaccuracies.

THIS CONTENT IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THIS IS IN NO WAY GIVING ANY LEGAL ADVICE OR REPRESENTATION. THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN WAS COMPILED FROM VARIOUS ARTICLES. FOR ANY LEGAL ADVICE OR REPRESENTATION SEEK YOUR OWN LEGAL COUNSEL.