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20 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

Aug 1, 2008
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the most reported form of fraud. Identity theft and mail theft go hand-in-hand. While identity theft can involve the Internet and world wide web, most criminals don't rely on technical savvy to steal personal information. They simply look for lost wallets, burglarized mailboxes, or improperly disposed of hardcopy records.

In 2008, Javelin Strategy & Research held a survey online to monitor trends in identity fraud. One of the important issues of the survey was identifying how identity theft was initially accomplished: out of the 35% of victims knew how information was taken, more than 75% said it involved a physical method (lost wallet, phone sale, stolen mail, etc) compared to 14% that indicated online methods (phising, e-mail scams, etc.)

"Criminals don't have a bias toward technology. They will use any channel that works." James Van Dyke, president of Javelin Research.

To protect themselves against identity theft, consumers need to understand effective (and simple) methods of protecting themselves. This can include using free anti-virus software on your computer, locking your mailbox, and simply education for better safety.

Here is a list of ways to help protect yourself against mail and identity theft:

1- But a cross-cut shredder. Take any financial and personal information documents and make sure that your information is not accessible when you get rid of it. This includes old billing statements and pre-approved credit applications. Also keep track of credit card receipts as some merchants print your information on them.

2. If you work in a business that creates documents, take the responsibility to protect your clients by destroying documents before leaving them. For a business, identity theft can be just as damaging as personal identity theft.

3. Be aware of your Credit and Debit cards. "Number Thieves" sometimes use cell phone cameras to take a record of your number while using it at grocery stores or restaurants. An easy method of protection is to lay your card face down while waiting for the bill.

4. If you request a new credit card in the mail, make sure to keep track of when you receive it. If you do not see the card in an appropriate time- contact the issuing organization and have it cancelled and resent.

5. Do not keep open credit cards that remain unused and unmonitored. If you do not intend to use a card, keep an eye on the account or cancel it.

6. Put passwords on all your accounts and do not use common terms and avoid using your mother's maiden name. Make up a fictitious word.

7. Confirm how your personal information is stored and protected by businesses you interact with. Ask financial institutions, doctors' offices, etc., what they do with your private information and make sure that they dispose of it properly.

8. Do not carry your unneeded information! Remove excess credit and ID cards from your wallet and purse. Do not carry any information you do not need and use on a daily basis.

9. Confirm why your social security number is needed on any application, and how that information is used and protected after you release it to someone.

10. If called by phone, do not give out your personal information over the phone if you do not recognize the business you are dealing with. If you feel any sense of doubt, ask for a number and contact information for the person requesting the information and contact them to provide only the necessary information.

11. Do not put telephone numbers on you checks. If a business requests a phone number, write it in the notes section of the check on a case by case basis.

12. Use banking and credit cards that offer photo ID on any cards they issue.

13. Do not store your credit card number on shopping sites. It may seem secure, but you may accidentally release your password to a site without knowing it and give away your credit card information at the same time.

14. Most identification groups (health care, insurance, etc) can utilize a different identification number instead of your social security number. Using a custom identification number reduces the number of people who have access to your social security number and personal information.

15. Keep track of your banking and credit card statements. Check line items (and those darn monthly charges) to make sure that you have authorized all the charges on your account.

16. Check your credit every six months. You can gain a free copy of your credit report during most credit application processes (credit card applications, mortgage, car financing, etc) Review your information carefully.

17. Keep your personal information on your computer secure. Utilize password options and do not store financial data on a mobile computer (laptop, PDA, phone) If you do need to store sensitive data, encrypt the information with proper software.

18. Store personal information at home in a secure location, preferably a locking file cabinet or personal safe.

19. Double-check that all of your utility accounts and financial services have DIFFERENT passwords. If one account has security breached, it will prevent all of your accounts from being hijacked.

20. The Next Step: Ordering Your Credit Report

The three major credit bureaus have current toll-free phone numbers and web addresses for ordering credit reports. You can also order by mail, but these addresses change frequently and it is best to call or check the web site to get the current mail address.

EXPERIAN: Toll-free phone number: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742), TTY (1-800-972-0322)

EQUIFAX: Toll-free phone number: 1-800-685-1111.

TRANS UNION: Toll-free phone number: 1-800-888-4213.

If you think you are the victim of identify theft:

ISSUE A CREDIT FREEZE. A credit freeze disables your credit file, requiring extra verification to open new accounts or access personal information. Typical credit freezes last 90 days. You can request a credit freeze by contacting any of the three credit agencies above.
About the Author
Jenny DeRaspe-Bolles is Marketing/PR Specialist at MailBoss - a division of Epoch Design. MailBoss is committed to the design, manufacturing and distribution of a security mailbox of superior quality and value. The Mail Boss locking security mailbox product line secures sensitive mail, helping consumers protect themselves from the epidemic of mail theft and identity theft.
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