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How Do I Prevent Identity Theft 20 Prevention Tips

Identity theft is the #1 white collar crime in the United States. While no one can ever be certain they won’t be the victim of identity theft, certain actions help reduce the risk that someone is going to collect your personal information and use it to steal your money.

An identity thief is a person who uses someone’s credit card and bank account information to make purchases and open accounts in that person’s name. Sometimes identity thieves use a deceased person’s credit card information to create a second identity they can use for all sorts of economic gain, perhaps using the ghoulish tactic of looking through obituaries of the past and present to find good candidates. These people are scummy and can cause a great deal of mischief.

Tom Waterhouse with Smartphone

People Can Get Smartphones without a Credit Check Anymore.

Even worse is identity stealing which involves a living person and their money savings.

When a person uses a credit card at the convenience store and leaves it sitting on the counter top an instant too long, a stolen VISA or Mastercard and therefore a stolen identity can occur. When a person uses a debit card at the gas pump and the next customer finds a way to tap that information, you can have your identity stolen.

When you give out your social security number or even your drivers license information to the wrong individual, a person can use one piece of information to steal your life savings and run up huge cash debts it will take you years to sort through–or years to pay off.

Sometimes, identity theft leaves a person at financial liability or even criminal risk, because it’s often hard to prove a negative. It’s important that you take all the steps you can to make an information thief’s job as hard as possible. It’s important to monitor activity on your accounts to detect quickly when something suspicious is happening. Don’t assume your credit card company’s anti-theft security is good enough. Take matters into your own hands to help lenders protect you.

Tips when Checking for Evidence Identity Theft

These 20 tips and suggestions can save you a ton of trouble. Make these your standard operating policies when handling your cash and credit. You’ll be much less likely to be the victim of identity theft.

  1. Don’t give out your bank account numbers or Social Security numbers to unsolicited callers.
  2. Consider getting a locked mailbox or post office box for incoming mail which includes bills and checks.
  3. Avoid giving out your bank account numbers or Social Security information orally when in a store. What you say to an honest cashier or department store rep could be overheard by the dishonest browsing through the tie rack 10 feet away.
  4. Don’t leave personal bills and information laying around your home or office if it’s accessible to strangers or other people. The list of people I’m talking about includes babysitters, cleaning service personnel, home contractors, repairmen, Geek Squad, and roommates. Unless it’s a part of your nuclear family, don’t trust them.
  5. Avoid filling out full personal information on Internet profiles when signing up on social networking sites, e-mailing lists, dating sites, Who’s Who Guides, resume posting websites online, or any other sort of public data sources. It’s not lying to protect your identity, so make sure your whole life isn’t “out there”. Instead, fill out enough to do the trick, but don’t include the most personal information about yourself.
  6. Destroy sensitive personal information when you no longer store it. This includes tax records, pay stubs, credit card receipts, bank statements, and brokerage reports. Get rid of these personally with a woodstove, fireplace, or crosscut shredder. I suggest you do this yourself and not sub-contract out the work. When I was a teen, I worked for a company which picked old records up around town and shredded them later. Those customers thought the company was shredding them immediately, but I saw firsthand they were left sitting days, weeks, and even months–a security risk if I ever saw it. That company was mismanaged, so I’m not implying this always happens, but you take the risk.
  7. Save all credit card receipts from your creditors and, by all means, don’t leave them in shopping bags. These can be stolen or lost easily at the mall. Get them at the register, put them in your purse, wallet, or pocket, and don’t leave them sitting around.
  8. Avoid carrying a Social Security card or SS number in your wallet. This includes military ID cards, employee IDs, college identification cards with student ID numbers, health insurance cards, or prescription drug iD cards. Anytime an SS# is used, don’t carry the original. Instead, carry a copy in which you black out the social security number.
  9. When asked to reveal personal information, don’t be afraid to say no. Always think about how this information could be used against you.
  10. Only print your drivers license number or social security number on a personal check when it’s required. Don’t do this as a matter of course.
  11. Limit how many credit cards you keep in your purse or wallet.
  12. Avoid carrying your checkbook around, unless you plan on using it.
  13. When you’re required to submit a receipt to your employer or a charitable organization you work for/with, always cross out with a Sharpie or a Magic Marker your bank account information or credit card number. These people don’t need that information, but you give them what they do need.
  14. If you fill out letters, notes, or postcards to mail in envelopes to an organizational headquarters, be careful about sensitive information placed therein. This includes mailing in information to companies for warranties, rebates, contests, sweepstakes, and raffles. You have no idea who sees this information, so be careful who you give it out to.
  15. Place outgoing mail in a secured collection box at the post office or in parking lots. Don’t put your outgoing letters and bill payments in unsecured home boxes or rural route boxes. I have a friend who lives out in the country who I’ve seen do the latter. I tell him it’s a bad idea, but he assumes his town is safe. Never assume such things.
  16. Review bank statements when they arrive and reconcile the balance sheet which your expenditures to make sure nothing is fishy. Do the same with brokerage reports. I know it’s hard sometimes to face economic truths when debt is a problem, but avoiding the bank statement is no way to handle your credit problems. Check, so your debt situation doesn’t get worse through identity theft.
  17. Have a general idea of the billing cycle for your credit cards and major bills, especially utility bills. This includes water, electricity, and cell phones (important). If you haven’t received a bill within a week of the due date, call and see what’s up. Identity thieves sometimes steal mail and use bills to fake your identity.
  18. Destroy sensitive personal information when you no longer store it. This includes tax records, pay stubs, credit card receipts, bank statements, and brokerage reports. Get rid of these personally with a woodstove, fireplace, or crosscut shredder. I suggest you do this yourself and not sub-contract out the work. When I was a teen, I worked for a company which picked old records up around town and shredded them later. Those customers thought the company was shredding them immediately, but I saw firsthand they were left sitting days, weeks, and even months–a security risk if I ever saw it. That company was mismanaged, so I’m not implying this always happens, but you take the risk.
  19. Check your credit report once per year with each of the major credit bureaus to find errors in your history or evidence of identity theft. By law, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax are required to provide a free credit report (each).
  20. Follow general security consciousness with your home and property when you go on vacation, out on the town, or anywhere in public. When you leave the house, use house lights with timers. (These cost almost nothing at Walmart or Target.) When out in public, zip your purse or button your back pocket, if possible. Store important papers in a home safe or (better) a safe deposit box.

Identity Theft Prevention Tips

This suggestions for how you can prevent identity theft should reduce the risk that you become the next white collar crime statistic. It’s impossible to be 100% secure against attacks from opportunists who wait for you to make a mistake.

Reduce the risk that you have your identity attacked and increase the chances of security breach identification if this should happen to you, so you can limit the damage done to your social life, financial situation, and peace of mind. There might not be one-hundred percent total insurance against identity thieves, but keep these tips in mind so you get in the habit of being vigilant.

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