Preventing identity theft involves several simple steps: Freezing your credit (most states allow it), shredding and otherwise properly disposing of personal information, and taking caution when using the internet for financial transactions and banking online. Anyone who has taken these three simple steps is well on their way to feeling very secure about their identity, because it will be very secure.
Most often, someone close is the person who steals your identity. Children, spouses, ex-spouses, siblings, and other relatives might take advantage of a common name. Friends have easier access to critical information. Protecting elderly or terminally ill people from identity theft is also important – a worker in a hospice expected a patient to die and stole his identity. But the patient lived and eventually the worker was proven guilty.
Prevention is really the key. Freezing your credit involves a minimal expense and is relatively quick and convenient. You simply visit the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – on the web, and apply to have your credit frozen. (Some states only allow freezes for victims of identity theft.) The credit bureaus issue a password you may store in a safe place and if you need your credit unfrozen, they will lift the freeze for a short time. Employers, for example, can still verify what is in your credit report even if it’s frozen, so the arguments against freezing your credit are slim.
Shredders are readily available. Buy one and shred critical documents that you no longer need. Switch to receiving financial documents online. Shredding something by mistake is usually not critical because your financial institution will readily send you another one, although you may have to pay a small fee.
Close your browser after you’re done with looking at any page. Using public computers (such as at the library) usually isn’t a problem, but be careful to close the software after finishing and don’t let anyone look over your shoulder. Make sure your internet browser is secure and uses encryption (most if not all browsers automatically do).
Be firm about not giving out your social security number and other critical information. Obviously, not giving personal information to an unknown telephone caller is wise, but I once refused to give my social security number to a bank teller when several other customers were around.
Caution, but not paranoia is in order when taking steps to guard your identity. This widely publicized crime is easily thwarted with a few simple steps that might actually make your life easier.