Identity theft can be a really scary thing. I personally had it happen to me a few years ago, and I’m still not entirely sure how the thieves managed to do it. I inspect my credit card bills carefully when I get them, and one year near Christmas time I began seeing charges show up on my credit card bill that I did not recognize at all. When I called my credit card company up to ask for more information about the charges, it became clear that those were not charges I had authorized.
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Thankfully I caught this right away and my credit card company immediately reversed the charges and closed that account. However, what if I had not caught this? The charges were small enough (around $20-$30) that they sort of blended in with other charges to the card, and like I said this was around Christmas so I had been doing some shopping for gifts. In retrospect I wonder if they had somehow gotten my information as I shopped online- but I don’t know for sure.
I think what happened to me falls into the more minor realm of identity theft. However, there are some truly terrifying stories out there about folks who’ve had their identity stolen and the terrible ways it created havoc in their lives. Protecting your personal and credit information is important!
7 Ways to Help Prevent Identity Theft
1) Check your credit score regularly. This website will provide you with a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency every 12 months. When you get the reports, look them over carefully for any discrepancies and report any issues to either the company that issued the account and/or the credit agency. If you suspect a problem you can place a fraud alert on your account.
2) Shred old credit card statements, bank statements, etc. (using a cross-cut shredder). Thieves could retrieve this information from your trash. You should also shred unsolicited credit card offers that come your way. Another option would be to decrease the amount of junk mail and credit offers coming to your home.
3) Promptly remove mail from your mailbox, or consider putting a lock on your mailbox if it does not already have one. It’s sad, but one way that identity theft may occur is from thieves pulling credit card statements or offers straight out of your mailbox.
4) Try to minimize the amount of information that you “put out there.” There are many agencies and businesses that we interact with on a daily basis that request a certain amount of personal information from us as a matter of their business practice. However, whether these businesses always NEED this information is debatable.
I recently had a medical procedure done at a hospital I’d never been seen at before. There was a box on the intake form at the hospital for me to fill in my social security number. I left it blank- after all, they are not my employer. They do not need to report my earnings to the IRS or anything like that. I could not think of a solid reason why they should need my SSN. I left it blank and no one said a word about it. The more information about yourself that you give out, the more opportunities there are for identity theft to occur. This is especially true with your SSN, date of birth, address, etc.
5) Look carefully at your credit card and bank statements to make sure you recognize all the charges. I think this is a biggie for most of us who are really busy. It’s easy to just pay it and forget about it, but not doing this could really hurt you!
6) Safeguard your important documents and information. This may include getting a safe deposit box or a lockbox to keep social security cards, passports, etc. in at home as well as using a security system (Entry Vision has a variety of smart door locks and video com doorbells for example), or may also include making sure you have secure passwords on all of your online accounts.
Last year I had a close call with this when my Yahoo account password was hacked. This was a big problem itself, but there were bigger ramifications: the password that I was using for my Yahoo account was the same one that I was using on my bank accounts. Not good! I had to rush to change my bank passwords before the thieves managed to figure out where I bank. And of course all this happened as we were moving (the day after our internet got shut off at the former house), so I was trying to do all this on my smart phone in the midst of a sea of boxes and movers. Needless to say, after that I majorly got my password act together and created different passwords for different sites. It’s more to keep track of, but it’s much more secure.
7) Be careful about what you share on social networking sites, and be careful when you shop online. I try to use PayPal to pay online whenever that is an option, since it allows me to avoid typing in my credit card number and other info. It also keeps your financial info out of other website databases.
Suggested Reading: There are some other great articles out there on the web on identity theft, such as this one. Or, if you want to read a really interesting book by a guy who takes his privacy incredibly seriously and is a MASTER at preventing people from even knowing who he is, you should check out this great book, How to Be Invisible. It’s a fascinating read- but don’t blame me if you feel a lot more paranoid after reading it!
These are only 7 ways to help prevent identity theft. I’m sure there are a lot more! Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? Are there other things that you have done to help prevent identity theft from happening to you?
I really hope I never have to deal with identity theft, but with it’s increasing prevalence it seems we’ll all have to at some point. Thanks for the tips.
I hope it never happens to you or anyone else either! It’s so sad that some people make their living by stealing from others. Thanks for your comment!
Simon | Modest Money says
Identity theft is certainly scary…moreso nowadays when most of our financial and personal data is strewn all over the internet. I might add that one to safeguard their passwords well online and chose fairly difficult ones. Additionally, ensuring the sites you are carrying your transactions from are the legitimate pages would also help a great deal.
Great points! I recently read a great book called Complete Guide to Internet Privacy, Anonymity, and Security by Matthew Bailey. It included many tips such as how to create complex passwords (using a system that helps make them unique AND helps you remember them) and much more. I’ve started doing quite a few things differently on the internet since reading that book. As you say, there really is much more information about us all out there on the internet than most of us are aware of, and it can unfortunately open us up to identity theft.