Reducing Your Risk of Identity Theft
Your identity is one of your most valuable assets. Understanding where you might be vulnerable - and how identity thieves can exploit that vulnerability - is the first step in defending it. In this case, what you don't know can hurt you.Your Wallet
Avoid carrying these items in your pocket, wallet, or purse unless absolutely necessary:
- Your Social Security card
- Your child's Social Security card
- Your birth certificate
- Your passport
- Your military identification card
- An insurance card bearing your Social Security number (or that of your spouse)
- More than two credit or debit cards
If lost or stolen, these items can also increase your risk:
- A driver's license bearing your Social Security number
- A personal organizer, mobile phone, or PDA (for example, a Palm Pilot) that has your personal information where it's easy to find - "just in case it gets lost"
Having any of the following printed on your checks can significantly increase your risk:
- Your Social Security number
- Your driver's license number
- Your home address
Avoid having blank checks mailed to you at home - or, for that matter, to any insecure, non-locking mailbox. Instead, arrange to pick them up at the bank in person.Your Mail
Follow these tips scrupulously - they can help save you from a painful situation:
- Use either a secure locking mailbox or a Post Office Box.
- Never place outbound mail (at work or at home) in an open, unlocked box.
- Never leave mail (or other personal information) in your car.
- Know when bank account and credit card statements, phone and utility bills, and other monthly bills typically arrive in your mail. If they're late, investigate.
- Be especially vigilant during tax season - tax documents are a favorite target.
- Shred and discard "preapproved" credit offers, and have yourself removed from marketing lists.
Use a crosscut shredder to shred any documents containing personally identifying information, account information, or other sensitive data before you discard them. In particular:
- Always shred preapproved credit offers before putting them into the trash.
- Always shred bank and credit statements before putting them into the trash.
- Never put documents containing personal data into your wastebasket at work (or at home).
If you can't imagine someone actually looking through your trash for banking, credit card, utilities, mortgage, school, insurance, tax, or other personal information, try harder. Police sort through trash to investigate crimes; identity thieves do it to commit crimes. Dumpster diving is one of the leading methods for obtaining the information identity thieves use to defraud their victims. That goes for businesses, too - for an identity thief, the dumpster behind an insurance agent's office or a mortgage brokerage can be a gold mine.Your Workplace and Employment
Check your workplace for these danger signs:
- Your employer uses your SSN as your employee identification number.
- Your SSN is printed on your employee ID card.
- Your SSN is posted on your time card in a public place.
- Documents containing your personal information are visible or accessible to coworkers - on your desk, on your computer display, or in an unsecured drawer or locker.
leave your purse or wallet, bank statements, payroll stubs, or other sensitive documents where others could see, copy, or steal them. The best way to keep trusted colleagues above suspicion is to keep temptation out of reach.
When seeking employment, avoid:
- Providing your Social Security number on your job application (at least, not until it's absolutely necessary).
- Posting your resume or providing personal information to an online job site.
Watch for these danger signs:
- Your educational institution uses your Social Security number (SSN) as your student ID number.
- Your grades have been posted publicly with your name, SSN, or other identifying information.
- Your name, SSN, or other identifying information are posted online as part of a class list.
- Your name, SSN, or other identifying information have been cached by an Internet search engine.
- You've provided your SSN as part of an application for admission.
If you think your school, staff or faculty are putting your identity at risk through flawed policies or insecure practices, don't keep it to yourself. Your school should treat your identity and your privacy with respect. Insist on it. What's more, there are stringent laws and regulations governing academic institutions' use and display of personally identifying information. Demand that they follow the law.Your Data
It's essential to give yourself an early warning system against attempted fraud. Take advantage of the tools available:
- Check your credit report frequently.
- Enroll in a credit monitoring service.
- Enroll in a fraud monitoring service.
If you are notified of a database compromise incident affecting your personal information at your financial institution, educational institution, or workplace, take that warning seriously.
To the extent possible, ensure that professionals and staff with access to your medical, dental, legal, financial, or academic records are trustworthy and that procedures are in place to curtail abuse of your information.
Be careful who you hand your credit card to - particularly if it's going somewhere you can't see it. Scammers working in service jobs can use small devices called "skimmers" to capture credit card data for later use.
When picking passwords for financial accounts, avoid such obvious choices as your mother's maiden name, your birthday, or the name of a child or a pet.
Don't give out personal or financial information - especially your Social Security number - unless it's truly necessary. Not everyone who asks for your SSN really needs to have it; when in doubt, just say no.
Never provide financial and/or personally identifying information over the phone in response to an incoming call, or when calling a number from an uncertain source.Your Computer
The following tips will help you use technology more safely:
- Use antivirus software on your computer, and be sure to keep your antivirus definitions updated.
- Use a properly configured firewall on your home computer, especially if you have an "always on" connection to the Internet, such as DSL.
- If at all possible, avoid using software with a record of security issues, such as exploitable versions of the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser.
- Use a spam filtering solution. If spam gets through, don't open or reply to it.
- Never click on links or attached files in email messages from unknown or uncertain sources - especially if they claim to come from financial institutions, credit card companies, or government agencies such as the IRS, or contain attached executable (.exe) files.
- Never download video or sound files from an untrusted source - and make sure that your children follow this rule as well.
- Never use publicly available computers to check bank accounts, personal email, or any other sensitive personal information, especially if it requires a username and password. Such information can be cached on the computer's hard drive or stolen by keystroke-capture programs without your knowledge.
- When discarding, selling, or donating a computer, make sure to remove all data from the hard drive using a "wipe" utility. Deleting files makes them inaccessible for most users, but does not actually remove the data from the drive - and identity thieves have been known to exploit that fact.
Here are a few other potential vulnerabilities to consider:
- Do you appear in "Who's Who" or professional directory entries?
- Did you file a Form DD-214 at a public courthouse when your military service ended?
- Was your personal information (notably your Social Security number) included in the SEC filing of a publicly traded company for which you work?
- Do you have housekeepers, health care workers, maintenance workers, apartment managers, or other outsiders in your home - either occasionally or on an ongoing basis?
Article Source: Identity Theft 911, LLC