What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a growing security concern in today’s world. It has become easier than ever to steal personal information and cause significant harm to a person’s bank account, credit scores, or other valuable aspects of their life.
Identity theft refers to when a person uses your personal documentation (for example, your social security number, your credit card number, your name, your driver’s license, or another identifying piece of information) without your permission for the purpose of committing a crime such as fraud.
Fortunately, there are numerous steps you can take as an individual or as a small business to prevent the theft of your identity.
How Can I Prevent Identity Theft?
Have you signed up on the national do not call list? If not, you should. The registry restricts the calls telemarketers can make to your phones, reducing the risk you face of your identity being stolen by telemarketers or individuals misappropriating themselves as telemarketing personnel.
Next, consider signing up to block offers from credit card companies. If you already have a satisfactory number of credit cards (which for some people may be zero, while one or two are generally sufficient for most individuals), you should opt out online to keep from receiving a constant barrage of credit card offers. These offers make it easy for identity thieves to complete false applications in your name, increasing your risk of having false debts charged to credit cards you never registered for.
Whenever you are on the phone or the internet, refrain from releasing any kind of financial information, including credit card numbers and checking or savings account numbers, and in particular, your social security number. The only exceptions to this rule are if you made the phone call and if you know exactly which organization or person you are speaking to. If you are speaking to a stranger, do not share this information. Typically, the only legitimate companies that will ask for these numbers are credit card companies, banks, medical providers, and mortgage lenders.
Gather all credit card statements, bank account statements, and credit card offers you have received by regular mail, and shred them. If you do not have a shredder, cut them with scissors or burn them. This information is your identity, and it is not uncommon for identity thieves to dig through garbage at waste sites or at recycling sites or even on street corners to retrieve personal information of this caliber.
More generally, you should make an effort to keep from throwing out any piece of paper that contains personal or private identifying information. This includes papers containing your account numbers (to any account), your driver’s license number, the maiden name of your mother, your social security number, your name, or your address.
If you have pre-printed checks, be sure that they do not contain your social security number, your telephone number, or your driver’s license information. Having this information on a check along with your name and address makes it substantially easier for someone attempting fraud to apply for credit cards in your name and wreak havoc with your financial health. There are certain states which will try to use your social security number in place of your driver’s license number, but in most of those states, you can have another method of identification used instead; insist upon it.
Should you happen to lose a check or have one stolen, replace it immediately. Contact your bank and notify them so they can log the missing check numbers and block any potential payments on those numbers. Additionally, when you receive new checks in the mail, go through them to ensure none have been stolen. Remember, a blank check is not only an invitation to spend in the eyes of an identity thief, it also provides a thief with your name, address, and sensitive account information. Take precautions to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
When you receive a new document containing any personal information (for example, a medical bill, a set of checks, statements from your credit card company, or updates to licensing information), store it somewhere safe and remember to shred it when you no longer need it.
Similarly, make every attempt to guard any personal identification numbers, or PINs, you have, for your credit and debit cards. Also guard passwords that you can use to enter other accounts online. Do not store your PIN numbers anywhere near your physical cards, and that includes writing the PIN number on the card itself. Shred any receipts you have of debit or credit cards. Any and all of this information may be used to access your accounts.
When you choose a personal identification number for a debit or credit card, make sure you choose a creative password. You should not use part of your security number, part of your birthday, part of your driver’s license number, names of your children or significant other, part of your address, or even your telephone number. Not only are these among the first numbers identity thieves will guess, they are also likely to be accessible by anyone taking the trouble to steal your identity.
If you have a regular set of bills delivered by physical mail that do not reach you when you expect them to (for example, a gas bill or an electric bill or a phone bill or a water bill), call the company you expected to receive the bill from to discover why you did not receive it. It is possible that an identity thief may have completed a change of address notice in your name in an attempt to reroute personal information from your address to his or her address.
Finally, you should scan your bills whenever they arrive (particularly credit and debit bills) for unexpected or suspicious charges. If you receive charges for things you are sure you did not receive, do not ignore them. Rather, contact your credit card company immediately.