ID Theft. “Because Once it Happens, it will Always Happen.”
Years ago I read that quote, “Because once it happens, it will always happen,” in an article about ID theft. It made me think, “really? ALWAYS happen?” I couldn’t understand how it wasn’t fixable. Until it happened to me. And I can assure you now, 8 years later, it is still happening to me…
The first time that I experienced Identity Theft was in 2005. It started off simple. First my debit cards were getting hit with off charges from all over the world, regularly. Many said I wasn’t being safe online…those people did not know me. I’m one of the most paranoid people around, and my dealing with all of this has made it even worse. With the debit card fraud, the banks would investigate. At one point, it was found to be an “internal bank error,” and they then paid for one type of Identity Protection for me for a few years. Wouldn’t you know that it was during those years that someone tried to take a loan out in my name, my neighbor used me as a cosigner on a car loan (that they subsequently stopped paying for, and that’s how I found out), and my social had been “sold” in the market. Or, that’s what I was told by our county Detectives that handle these cases.
ALL of that happened while I check my account DAILY, sometimes more than once. The banks have my information locked up so tight, it takes me 10 minutes just to verify I’m me if I have banking issues. I have excellent computer and online protection, and I rarely shop online anymore. The trouble is…. Many of my side businesses require me to purchase my customers products online. And that’s where I think my breaches happened over the years. NOT AT ALL saying that the places I work for knew about it, could prevent it, or anything else… It’s the internet. It is what it is. If you’re on it, AT ALL, you’re at risk. It’s not just the things that you put on Facebook that are forever… it’s everything. Mortgage info. House info. Credit card info. Store scan-card info. You’re tracked everywhere. Staying on top of your every account is key. It may be annoying, and hard to get accustomed to… but if you’re ever hit with this, you’re going to be thankful you caught it early. Trust me.
I’m writing about this today because first thing this morning, I had to deal with a fraudulent situation, again. Hopefully this one was minor, and will pass…but it has heightened my awareness once again. Below you’ll find some good tips and reminder on how to stay vigilant in your financial world.
*Protect your Social Security number: Memorize your social security number. You should never carry your social security card in your wallet, but keep it in a safe place at home. Do not put your social security number on your checks or even credit receipts. Do not give out your social security number unless there is a privacy notice accompanying the request.
*Shred any and all personal documents: Buy and use a diamond or cross-cut type shredder to shred anything that you discard that may contain personal or financial information. This includes financial records, bank statements, pre-approved credit offers from the mail, and credit card receipts. Identity thieves employ “dumpster diving” techniques to steal your identity, but if you shred your documents, they will come out smelly and empty handed.
*Treat your mail with care: Stolen mail is almost the easiest way to get vital information. Keep a watchful eye on your mail and do not let simply sit in your mailbox all day. If you have a curbside mailbox, you may want to consider adding a lock to thwart identity thieves. Drop off checks at a USPS mailbox, instead of mailing them from home. Also, inform the post office to hold your mail when going on vacation and pick it up when you return.
*Know your payment cycles: Monitor your payment cycles on your credit cards and when your bank statement arrives every month. Call if the statements are late; identity thieves could have requested a change of address. It is not unusual for identity thieves to run up hefty charges before you even notice.
*When using the Internet, be on guard and watch for scams: Do not give personal information to people or companies who may ask you to click a link to verify your information. Do not click on links in email from unknown senders – if it is spam, it is a scam. Also, identity thieves have been using new “phising” techniques; they pretend to be an authoritative organization, such as your credit card or Ebay, asking you to verify your information. Never use these scam links; instead, log directly into your institution’s website, and chances are you will see that the email was a scam. Never put identifying information on discussion forums or websites such as MySpace or Facebook. Also, you can further protect yourself by installing a good anti-spyware program and anti-virus scan on your computer.
* Select strong and unique passwords: Password protect all of your accounts with a combination of letters and numbers. If you make up a word or phrase that does not exist in reality, your password becomes much stronger. When asked for a security question, do not use your mother’s maiden name, as this is very sensitive information. Memorize your passwords and PIN numbers, but do not use anything that would be easily guessed, such as birthdates or social security numbers.
* Verify sources before sharing information: Only provide information over the phone to people that you know. Identity theft scams can happen when a person says that they are a credit grantor of yours. Ask them if you can call them back and call the number that you know belongs to the company. When you discuss personal matters, provide only information that you believe is absolutely necessary. Avoid conducting surveys over the phone; they gather too much personal information that puts your safety at risk.
* Review your credit report frequently: Order your credit report at least twice a year; every three months would be ideal. Review it carefully. If you see anything that appears fraudulent or is not familiar to you, immediately put a fraud alert on your reports by calling the three credit reporting agency numbers. Ensure that all of your addresses are correct; if you witness a change in address, this is a huge sign that an identity thief is in the works. Check back with the credit agencies within 30 days to ensure the mistakes have been corrected. Also opt out of pre-approved offers with the credit bureaus by taking your name off all other promotional type of lists.
* Consider identity theft coverage: An ounce of prevention goes a long way, especially when you think of the countless hours that you could spend attempting to recover your stolen identity. A solid identity theft coverage program, such as Lifelock and Identity Guard, will not only save you time and money, but substantial frustration as well. These services will consistently monitor any changes to your personal credit files, ensuring that identity thieves are thwarted from marring your financial reputation
* Clean out credit and debit cards: Cancel all old credit cards that you do not use because open credit is a prime target for identity theft. When you are going to receive a new card in the mail, be aware of when it should arrive. Call to check on the card if you have not received it by a certain date. Never put your credit card account number on the internet (unless you are sure that it’s encrypted on a secured site); instead, you can opt to use services like PayPal that shield your credit card number from being broadcasted all over the internet. In terms of debit cards, avoid going to the ATM late at night and always ensure no one is looking over your shoulder when you are entering your PIN.
* Store information in secure locations: Put together a file of important information to safeguard your records. Make copies of all credit cards and bank account numbers, as well as their customer service phone numbers. Do not trust your hard drive to protect your identity, especially if it is connected to the internet.
* Safeguard your wallet and personal checks: Even though it is convenient to keep some things in your wallet, only carry what you absolutely need for day-to-day dealings. Never carry your birth certificate, social security card, or passport, unless necessary. When you order new checks, do not have your telephone number printed on them.
If you take these tips that help you stay safe from identity thieves, you safeguard your future and financial reputation. Remember, it is always easier to prevent id theft, than to fix the destruction an identity thief will wreak on your credit and finances.
(The above information was pulled from http://creditidentitysafe.com/identity-theft-protection and is a reputable site with valid suggestions. However, if you feel at any time that you cannot handle your own ID Theft battle, immediately seek out help. Contact your local authorities, as these days ID Theft is becoming so common, many police departments have task forces just to deal with this. They are often very helpful, and understanding.)
Want to know how to ensure that your computer is safe? Check out OnGuardOnline.gov and they’ll give you great information and tips on online safety!
Want to learn more about cyber crime, or been a victim? Check out the government’s special site that holds a booklet (.PDF) for reading. http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge.pdf