We all wonder “How do I avoid becoming a victim of identity theft?”
Remember that thieves, while creative and destructive, are also lazy and impatient, and if you make it difficult for them, they will move on to an easier target. So how do we make it difficult for them? The U.S. Department of Justice has several suggestions.
First, be very careful with any personal information you have. Banks, government agencies, and legitimate businesses will already have all your information on record. They will never call, mail, or email you and ask for any such identifying information. Queries that request your account number, your mother’s maiden name, your address, etc. should be considered bogus and an attempt to target you for identity theft. The thief may disguise his or her request in the form of an offer of a free credit card, travel opportunities, or a prize of some sort. Never accept such an offer over the telephone. Legitimate companies will send you a written application that you can thoroughly investigate before you fill it out and return it. If you must give information over the telephone (perhaps to a hotel or rental agency) when you are away from home, ensure that no one is close enough to overhear and remember your information.
Banks and credit cards
Check your financial information regularly. Your bank and credit statements should arrive monthly. If they do not, immediately call the institution and enquire why not. Go over each statement carefully for any charges or withdrawals that are not yours. Immediately report any discrepancies. Never put your social security or other identifying number or your telephone number on checks and have any new checks delivered to your bank, and pick them up there, do not have them delivered to your home. When paying bills by check, drop them off at a mailbox or the Post Office. Mail theft is common. Cancel and cut up all credit cards that you do not use. For the cards you retain, get ones with your picture on them.
Periodically request a copy of your credit report. Your credit report will list all bank and financial accounts under your name, and will provide other tell-tale signs of whether someone has wrongfully opened, or used, any accounts in your name. In the USA, for example, there is free service available at http://www.ftc.gov/freereports Of course there are companies that provide this service for a fee as well. Retain all your statements in case of a dispute later. If you need to dispute a particular check, purchase or transaction, especially if they purport to bear your signature, your original records will be more immediately accessible and can be very useful to the institutions that you have contacted. Shred all other important papers that you are not filing, especially pre-approved credit offers, credit card receipts and other financial information.
There are several services that offer various plans for preventing identity theft and minimizing the effects of such theft. They have myriad features and for a review of some of them you might want to go to NextAdvisor.com. The steps you take now to prevent this devastating crime may seem overly cautious and tedious, but they are relatively simple and will make it difficult for a thief to take advantage of you.
For further research and information:
US Dept of Justice – Identity theft and identity fraud
Fight identity theft
ID Protection Guide