Socrates once said to regard your good name as the richest jewel you could possibly possess. This wisdom couldn’t be more appropriate for today’s world. Thieves are more than willing to steal your richest jewel, your identity, and use it to commit fraud and other crimes. The good news is there are some simple steps that can be taken to lower the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Protect Your Good Name
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year. And because identity thieves are quite clever in their tactics to gain information, you need to be just as vigilant about the ways you protect your good name.
Shred all documents that contains your name, address or any personal information on it. Many identity thieves are all too eager to steal your trash, in the hopes of gathering personal information. Junk mail solicitations for credit card offers are a treasure to the identity thief. It is important to shred all mail with your personal information, and do not leave your full trashcans out overnight. One tactic of identity thieves is to cruise neighborhoods, stealing trash from cans or dumpster diving”. Don’t leave a crumb of information in your trash for an identity thief to utilize.
Be vigilant about internet safety. Never log-on to banking or financial websites on public computers. By doing so, you are putting your passwords and accounts at risk. Always log-out of all programs and websites that you visit. No matter what precautions you take on a public computer, be aware that you are never 100% safe. Computer savvy identity thieves can install software on public computers to record your every keystroke. As well, be aware of snoopers who may look over your shoulder to collect your personal information while you are on a public computer. Wi-fi networks also present an increased risk of identity theft as many networks are not secure. Make sure that you are connected to a wireless network that has password protection, and that your system is current on all anti-virus and firewall updates. Always assume that any information you access, transmit or post on a public computer can be shared with anyone.
Drop bills and outgoing payments in the post office mailbox. Your payments and checks contain all sorts of personal information, from your signature (which can be forged), to your account information and routing numbers. Yes, it may be more convenient to drop your outgoing mail in your own mailbox, but by doing so, your mail flag signals to potential thieves that you have a treasure waiting for them.
Be mindful of your credit cards and receipts. For on-line purchases, use a seldom used credit card, specifically designated for on-line purchases. Be aware that some credit card receipts contain the full credit card number on them. Don’t be careless, such as leaving a receipt on the table at a restaurant. The patron at the next table may be waiting for you to step away so that he can grab your receipt, or copy information from it.
Regularly check your bank and credit card statements, monitoring for any unauthorized purchases. It is a good idea to also analyze your credit report each year. Visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre34.shtm to obtain information on getting a free credit report. The report can indicate any suspicious activity or unauthorized accounts that may have been opened in your name.
Protect your social security number since thieves can easily use it to open accounts in your name. Make sure your social security card is not in your wallet, but in a secure location at home. Never have your social security number printed on checks.
Consider using a service to monitor against identity theft. Companies such as Life Lock, http://www.lifelock.com/ can help provide protection against identity theft. Other useful information about protecting your identity can be found online at the FTC website http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.