Stealing Your Life

A good friend e-mailed me last week to say she had become a victim of identity theft. She found out she was in a titanic mess when she started receiving phone calls about her applications to buy a car, enter a graduate program and get credit cards. If this can happen to Samantha, it can happen to anyone. She is a professional mental health counselor, an instructor, and a very together lady. She thought she was doing everything to avoid identity theft and was safe. She was wrong.

If this information is making you feel a little anxious I am glad to hear it. This crime is not only disruptive, it can be devastating. Samantha is not alone, there are over 10 million victims of identity theft in the United States – and the number is growing. On average victims spend over $1750 and 175 hours to recover from their distressing experience.

7 Tips to Help Avoid Identity Theft

Here are some suggestions to help you avoid identity theft.

1. Use Your Shredder.

I was in Staples yesterday and noticed that the variety of shredders has multiplied greatly in the last year or two. They run from $25 to well over $300. Use your shredder to destroy any document on which important identity information is written, such as your social security number, credit card account numbers, and bank account numbers. My advice to you is—when in doubt shred.

2. Never Give Out Identity Information over the Phone or in Emails.

The person who calls you to ask for a donation for the Troopers Fund is not a trooper. Banks will not call to ask for your account information and there is no king in Ethiopia desperately attempting to bring money to the US. Unless you are positive (i.e., known the caller since birth) don’t give out any identification information.

3. Ask the Big 3 Credit Bureaus to Remove Your Name from Marketing Lists.

Credit bureaus provide information to credit card companies for marketing. That is one reason your mailbox if full of offers from banks. It is very easy for a thief to open your mailbox and remove these offers. I can tell you from experience, they look in your trash also. Contact Equifax, Trans Union Credit Services, and Experian and ask to be removed from their marketing list.

4. Guard Your PIN Numbers.

Don’t write your PIN number where it will be available to others. Don’t enter your PIN number at an ATM if someone is close enough to observe your number.

5. Destroy Information Before You Dump That Defunct Computer.

If you are like me, your life is on your computer. A thief can harvest a multitude of data about you and your finances from your old hard drive. Get physical with that drive, beat it to death. It should be in no condition to be resurrected when you discard it.

6. Don’t Carry More Identification Than You Need.

If someone were to steal your wallet while you are browsing at Target what would they get? Right, they would have a ton of personal information about you and your family. Guard your purse or wallet and carry only the essentials.

7. Make Certain Your Credit Card Company Includes Fraud Guard.

Some credit card companies product you against purchases you did not authorize. Make certain that your bank has this advantage. You don’t want to pay for a thief’s new Harley. This came in handy when my wallet disappeared in Washington, DC.

Let me end by suggesting that you buy stock in a shredder company. Also, be consistent and keep abreast of new laws and regulations on identity theft. It is the fastest growing crime in this century. Be alert. Be consistent in your efforts to avoid becoming a victim. Now, go “reve” up that shredder and register for Identity Theft Protection service to be absolutely sure that your Identity is safe.

Related: Staying Safe Online – Security Tips

White House Official Hit By ID Theft

A teenager from Georgia named James Townsend submitted an application for Discover credit card under a fake name Austin Townsend after finding a social security number on the internet. It’s a typical ID theft case.

The social security number, however, belonged to a top US White House official.

The 17-year-old was led in front of the judge for his hearing. The judge told the teenager that he made a big mistake by messing with the wrong person.

Federal authorities did not release any information in the court about the victim who is thought to be a top executive branch official of US Secret Service.

The cash bond total was set by the teenager to $1000 for which he explained to the judges that he was just fooling around without any intention.

This crime was caught when the credit agency discovered that the Social Security number on the application was different to the name. And they, in turn, alarmed the secret service of this situation.

As reported in Channel Two Action News, Douglas County Chief Deputy Stan Copeland said that,

He wanted a Discover card and apparently got on the computer and started Googling different areas and ended up with a particular Social Security number.

Copeland further said that:

He was not Googling any particular person. We don’t think he had any knowledge [of who it was]

Townsend faces charges and can serve almost 5 years in jail if he is proven guilty of Identity Theft Charge.

Michael Germanovsky, a top expert in personal finance has quoted these words to inform the customers about ID theft:

Unless you are going to a DMV or another government organization, avoid companies that are using Social Security numbers (SSNs) as identifiers for any type of transaction. The SSN should only remain in a database as a secondary identifier. Organizations should exercise limited use of an individual’s SSN.

Michael also gave guidelines to the users to avoid any such cases which include:

  • Do not use email to send your SS number to even your credit card company
  • Avoid writing down your SS number on any internet website especially any social website
  • Do not use a computer log in system if you have to insert the SS card number to gain access
  • Never store your SS number on unprotected computers
  • Do not carry ID cards on which your SS numbers are written

By following the above advice, the ID theft cases can be avoided to a minimum.

Credit Report Is Often the First Signs of Identity Theft

Although there are many safeguards you can take to protect yourself from identity theft, it is not fully preventable. In today’s society, with all of our personal information in the hands of strangers, on numerous documents, and stored on computer hard drives, it is often beyond our control. (See Credit Reporting & Monitoring Services)

ID Theft and Your Credit

Identity theft is a very serious problem that continues to get worse as the thieves become more sophisticated. By monitoring your credit regularly you can catch identity theft right away. Often times your credit report is the first sign that someone has attempted to use or in fact used your personal information to commit fraud. The earlier you realize someone is trying to use your personal information, the sooner it can be stopped, which reduces the amount of potential damage done.

Becoming a victim of identity theft can be a huge burden. Not only does it consume a lot of personal time to rectify the matter, but it can have negative effects on one’s good name and credit history. As a result of having your credit and name tarnished, you can be refused loans, lose out on job opportunities, and even be arrested for a crime you did not commit.

Why Regular Credit Monitoring is Important?

Everyone is entitled by law to a free copy of their credit report. By law, each of the 3 repositories – Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian must provide you a copy of your report every 12 months if requested. Your credit report includes your past and current addresses and employers. It includes the dates and institutions that have pulled your credit. You will know if anyone has applied for a new credit card or loans in your name or if someone is attempting to use your identity to obtain employment. All of your open and closed accounts with pay histories are shown also. If something on your credit report seems out of the ordinary or there is anything you are unsure of, you will know right away. Many victims of identity theft are unaware for months or even years after a ton of damage is done. By monitoring your credit report regularly you can be sure to catch identity theft immediately and address it before it gets worse.

Related: Cards Reporting Credit, Credit Reporting Explained

There are companies that will monitor your credit for you. Some companies will even give you unlimited access to your credit report and credit score. Anytime something changes on it you are immediately alerted. This way you can determine if the change on your report was a result of you or someone else using your personal information illegally.

Many identity theft protection services offer credit monitoring as part of their service, which are normally cheaper than purchasing credit monitoring on you own. You should have 24/7 access to your credit report and credit score and be sure you are instantly notified of any changes to your credit report.

Curb Junk Mail To Reduce The Threat Of Identity Theft

The latest statistics also show that around 75 percent of our daily mail is made up of junk mail. This often includes credit card solicitations, advertising, and other junk mail we have no interest in and end up discarding unread. That is why more and more people are taking steps to remove themselves from bulk mailing lists.

It is possible to add your name and address to an anti-solicitation list in order to reduce the amount of junk mail that you receive.

Several new websites have emerged which allow you to control what you receive in the mail using a variety of methods. As well as being able to notify contacts of a change of address, sites such as Updater.com can be used to reduce or stop unwanted mail. This not only helps the environment by reducing paper mail, but can also help to reduce your risk if identity theft by stopping pre-approved credit card applications.

One way to ensure you do not receive pre-approved credit card junk mail is to visit the official consumer credit reporting industry website optoutprescreen.com. The site allows consumers to opt-out of receiving pre-approved credit card offers for up to 5 years.

PRO Tip
Register on Federal Trade Commission National DO NOT CALL registry.

Dumpster Diving

Identity thieves are well known for indulging in ‘dumpster diving‘ where they dig through the trash for letters containing personal information that can be used to steal your identity. Discarded bills or pre-approved credit card offers often contain all the information a thief needs to misuse your name including addresses, social security numbers, and account information. You can protect yourself by shredding bills and opting out of receiving offers through the mail.

It is not just thrown away junk mail which puts your identity at risk. Reports show that the re-routing of mail is increasingly becoming one of the most common threats in regard to identity theft. It is easily accomplished by simply changing the address with the U.S. Postal Service.

PRO Tip
You can change you address with USPS here.

What to do

The best course of action is to limit the amount of personal information carried through the mail. The majority of accounts now push online or paperless billing as the preferred option and not only is this more environmentally friendly, but it is also much more secure.

Wherever possible you should opt into paperless billing and also make bill payments online. New regulations mean that online banking must increase its security procedures making it a safer option all around. Doing this along with opting out of unsolicited mail will help reduce the risk of identity theft.

Conclusion

If you are considering purchasing identity theft protection, credit monitoring is definitely an important component. An ideal identity theft protection company will monitor your credit to prevent identity theft and be sure to catch it right away. Most importantly, if you do fall victim to identity theft, an identity theft protection company whose Restoration Service does all of the work for you or anyone in your immediate family, is exactly what you need. By monitoring your credit report you can fight back against identity theft, too.

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