How To Prevent Identity Theft in 5 Simple Steps

by Hank

Identity theft is one of the most common crimes in the world today. According to Javelin Strategy and Research, and their resent identity theft study, there were 10 million victims of identity theft in 2008 in the United States and over one in ten people received a data breach letter letting them know that they were potentially the victim of identity theft within each of the past three years. Purchasing items online can prove to be an inconvenient hazard for a lot of people because of the personal information that they have to give out as part of the process. In other cases, accounts are being opened by hackers who use other people’s information for illegal uses. But like all crimes, there is prevention methods that can be used to avoid such a situation in the first place.

Five simple steps to protect yourself…

Empty Your Mailbox.  First of all you must take your mail out of the mailbox immediately so that no one else can reach them. If your mail has stopped coming to you for some reason, you must contact the post office as soon as possible to find out why. Identity thieves can forge your signature and have your mail forwarded somewhere else and then gain personal information that they would further use to apply for credit in your name.

Review Your Credit Reports Regularly.  To keep up with your credit card activity, you must apply for your credit reports regularly and keep an eye out for fraudulent accounts and other information that might indicate your identity being stolen. Any points that may seem suspicious should be reported to the credit card bureau immediately to trace down the criminal’s activity. You are entitled to receive one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every year.  You can also sign up for credit monitoring services and credit score watching services through companies such as MyFICO.com.  MyFICO.com is the only place that you can get your real FICO credit score. 

Mind Your PIN Number.  Keep your bank card / debit card’s personal identification number (PIN) in a safe place.  You should also make sure that your credit card numbers are shredded and discard any letters or mail that you receive with this information so that the thieves don’t find it in your trash. A big mistake that many people make is to save the PIN number in their cell phones or on a piece of paper in their purse or wallet. I have known people who have their PIN numbers written in magic marker on the backs of their debit cards.  This is a huge mistake!  Care must also be taken to make sure no one is watching you when entering the PIN code at ATMs.

Digital Information.  Destroying any digital information that you have on your computer or laptop is important. Just by simply deleting or reformatting data is not enough as they can be undeleted. You should use programs that completely destroy the information on the hard disk. As for CDs for other removable media, you should shatter it into pieces before discarding it.

Information On Your Checks.  Believe it or not, people still write checks for many of their bills and other purchases.  You must take steps to limit the amount information that you or the cashier writes on the top of your checks. Don’t add your driver’s license number unless the company just has to have it for their security.  Never put your social security number on your checks no matter what.  You can request that the company not write those items on the top of the checks.  There are no rules or laws requiring it.  If you make a fuss about it, almost all managers will excuse the information’s omission from the face of the check.

You can also sign up with an identity protection company such as LifeLockLifeLock provides a proactive identity theft service, specializing in the prevention of identity theft rather than the reporting of it.  They even go as far as offer a $1 million dollar guarantee in which they promise to help you with lawyers and the like if you do become a victim of identity theft while using their services. 

The average fraud victim will spend about 30 hours and $500 in out-of-pocket costs to restore their good names and credit.  Always remember to keep your crucial information safe and sound.  There are tons of identity thefts out there just looking for you to have a lapse in memory or judgment with your information.  Something as simple as leaving credit card statements in the trash without shredding them could be used for fraud if it fell into wrong hands.  You can prevent identity theft from ruining your life by using these five simple tips and being proactive.

Thanks to SpendOnLife for the help with some of the statistics.  Check out their blog’s great Identity Theft section.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Identity theft prevention November 23, 2009 at 3:34 am

Beware of job scams, don’t give out personal data unless certain the person you are talking to is from a legitimate company.

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