Identity Thief: How to Avoid Identity Theft
Identity theft is increasingly common with the less face-to-face financial transactions and our increased general ease with online and telephone purchases. Most people don’t think twice when tossing out a bank statement, credit card offer, or handwritten notes. All it takes is one account number for a thief to begin stealing your identity, ruining your credit and spending your money. Be careful when throwing away information such as a birth date, phone number or address. Remember these are the security questions often asked to verify identity. When combined with a wayward account number, they could be the end of your financial security. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself against identity theft:
Shred everything that has personal info on it. Purchase a cross-cutting shredder. Paper shredded in strips can be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle, especially if the paper was inserted in a certain way. Get in the habit of checking paper and receipts for even partial account and personal information. Protect your friends, family, and clients too by shredding jotted down telephone numbers and business information. Be cautious that institutions you do business with are being equally careful with your information.
Shred junk mail whole or open it to shred the items with information on it. A temporary credit card, credit card cheques, or activation codes can be a quick “in” for thieves.
Cutting up credit cards is not enough. Be sure that you put a few of the pieces that have your credit card number on them in a different trash bag. Put these bags out on separate days. Even a cancelled credit card number or the last four digits can be enough for identify theft to commence.
Selectively share your information. Half of identity theft cases are by someone the victim knows. Be careful to keep bills out of sight and financial information locked away when you have service people in your house. A friend might offer to help you sort through paper or pay bills. Make sure it is someone you know well before you give them access to this valuable information.
Don’t forget about media. Cut up CDs and destroy diskettes. Have hard drives wiped even if you intend the throw out a computer.
Keep your identity safe online. Only give your credit card information to online stores that are reputable and bear a security accreditation. Be leery of things that are free but require your credit card information (including credit check websites). Charges may appear on your account even years later.
Guard your passwords. Do not use auto-complete to fill out forms or store your usernames and passwords. It is easy for hackers to get this information. Make sure you use different usernames and passwords for all websites. If you are afraid you won’t remember this information record it in a book and keep it in a safe place or put it in a password protected file on your computer. Don’t use tools that allow you to sign in automatically to websites such as MSN Passport. If a thief gets one log in, they get them all. Also, be sure to log off of email and online banking sites before closing the window. Using a “Remember Me” or “Keep Me Logged In” feature stores cookies on your computer which can be hacked into. Take the time and log in manually. Clear your history files regularly.
A little extra time and attention now can save you from the sometimes long lasting repercussions of identity theft.