Mr. Rogers once said “you make each day a special day. You know how — by just you being you. There’s only one person in this whole world like you.” It’s obvious Mr. Rogers was trying to teach his audience of youngsters about the importance of being wary of identity theft.
Mr. Rogers was always such a visionary, as today we face a growing problem with identity theft. According to a November 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2010 “7.0 percent of households in the United States, or about 8.6 million households, had at least one member age 12 or older who experienced one or more types of identity theft victimization.” From that same November 2011 report, in 2005 only 5.5 percent of American households, or 6.4 million, experienced one or more types of identity theft victimization.
There are a multitude of ways a criminal might go about trying to obtain your personal information, eventually leading to identity theft. On the low-tech end, a criminal might:
- steal your wallet or purse
- rummage through your trash or mail
- hook you with a phone or email scam
- bribe or con an institution into obtaining their records that contain your personal information
Becoming ever more prevalent today, on the more high-tech end, a criminal might:
- skim your credit or debit card
- perform some sort of data breach, such as hacking, to obtain records that contain your personal information
Like most other crimes, no one is immune to identity theft; however, like most other crimes, there are ways of going about reducing your chances of becoming a victim. So take into consideration the following tips to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Take only what you need with you: If your wallet or purse was stolen today, how much information would you lose? While it used to be said that you should photocopy every card or form of identification in your wallet or purse, that idea is now evolving into just leaving all those cards or other forms of identification in a secure location at home.
Going out to a bar or two? Just take your driver’s license and a credit card. Leave the rest of your cards (e.g., health insurance card, car insurance card) at home. You shouldn’t be driving, so you won’t need your car insurance card. If you do end up in the hospital, the hospital can retrieve your health insurance information without you even knowing your group, plan or member numbers.
Be careful with your trash: Instead of taking it out the night before, consider taking your trash out the morning of trash collection. Of course, you should rip up — or shred if you have access to a shredder — anything associated with a personal account, even something with just your full name and address on it. Also, consider going “paperless” with your bills and statements. This will work to reduce the amount of ripping and shredding going on in your life.
Limit what you receive in the mail: Again, go paperless. Not only will you be doing something good for the environment, and in turn furthering Obama’s socialist agenda, but you will also be limiting the amount of things people can steal out of your mailbox. Take all of the bills and statements you receive during the month and register to receive them online, via email. This could include your cell phone, gas and electric, car insurance and renter’s insurance statements. This should be an easy switch, as most providers prefer to send your bills online because it saves them money.
You can also “opt out” of receiving new credit card offers in the mail, putting even fewer things in your mailbox for people to steal. The number to call to stop receiving new credit card offers is: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).
In addition, know when your mail typically comes, and try to retrieve it soon after it is delivered. Also, consider depositing your outgoing mail at the post office or at a post office collection box — as opposed to placing it in an unsecured mailbox at your front door or curb.
Finally, if you’re going away on vacation, place a vacation hold on your mail.
Limit the information on your checks: Unfortunately, most people still have to write a check every now and then. While your checks are required to carry some information, other information is placed on your checks voluntarily. Never include your home phone, driver’s license or social security numbers on your checks.
In addition, consider using just the first letter of your first name on your checks. For example, instead of having “John Doe” on your checks, just put “J. Doe.”
Finally, when ordering new checks, pick them up instead of having them mailed to you.
Be aware of phishing scams: For younger people, phishing mostly occurs online these days. You are most certainly aware of all of the scams out there, where someone randomly contacts you from a bank or foreign country.
When giving out personal information, a fairly easy way to think about it — and a good rule of thumb — is to never give out personal information over the phone, through mail or on the Internet unless you are the one who initiated the contact.
Protect your Social Security number: Social Security numbers are like gold, especially if someone has the name and address that goes with that Social Security number. Don’t keep your Social Security card in your wallet, or anywhere else other than a safe, safety deposit box or other secure location. Memorize your Social Security number.
When prompted to give your Social Security number to a bank or other institution, ask to only give the last four digits. Today, most banks and credit card companies, when confirming your identification, will only ask for the last four digits.
Destroy digital data: Don’t just throw away that old desktop, laptop, cellphone or copy machine — because surely most of you have an old copy machine at home just gathering dust. An old laptop, cell phone or copy machine can hold an abundance of old personal information. If you’re not going to hand over your old electronics to a reputable charity — who will erase your personal data before reusing the device — then be sure to erase or destroy your hard drive before taking the device to your local landfill to be recycled.
Keep an eye on your credit report: You are allowed to access your three credit reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies for free once a year. You can do this by going to annualcreditreport.com. At least once a year, review your three credit reports to make sure that all of the reported accounts are yours and legit.
Keep an eye on your credit card and bank statements: It used to be that people got their credit card and bank statements once a month. Now, you have access to these same statements in real time online. Consider setting aside one day a week to look at the charges on your statements.
If you should discover your identity has been compromised, there are several prescribed steps that the U.S. federal government suggests taking. Those steps, and additional information on deterring, detecting and defending from identity theft, are contained on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s website.