We have all heard the news about a billion passwords being stolen by Russian hackers, and Target exposing millions of customer credit cards. I invited Peggy Altschuler of LegalShield as a guest author for this month’s article to help clear up what identity theft is, what we can do about it, and how we can protect ourselves.
Think you’re not at risk? Think again!
Identity theft is the world’s largest white collar crime
It has even surpassed drug trafficking by trade. All day, every day, identities are being bought and sold on the black market non-stop. According to the FTC, one in two will be affected with one of the six types of identity theft in the next twelve months.
What are the six types of identity theft, you ask?
- Social Security
- Driver’s License
Unfortunately, most people have a misconception that identity theft is all financial. Countless times individuals have told me, “Let them steal my identity, my credit stinks,” or “An identity thief wouldn’t want mine. I don’t have any money.” When that occurs, I ask them for a few minutes of their time to explain the six different types of identity theft and how it could affect their life. The nightmare can go on for years.
Are you aware that social security numbers can be purchased for as low as $15.00? Did you know that identity “packages” are available that include driver’s licenses, marriage certificates, fake diplomas, etc.? Unfortunately, technology has so far surpassed the security of it that identity theft is out of control.
People often ask me how they can prevent identity theft from happening to them. Unfortunately, we can not prevent it. All we can do is take pro-active steps to make us less susceptible to being the next victim. The real key is what identity theft protection measures you have in place when it happens to you.
What to look for in identity protection
When looking for protection, make sure that your plan includes full restoration. This simply means that a professional is working on your behalf to restore it back to the way it was originally, no matter how long it takes. With the most expensive part of identity theft being the time spent to recover, this is the number one thing to look for in an identity theft protection program.
Everyone is vulnerable, young and old alike. Even the deceased have their information being used. Education is key. Know what can happen to you and put a plan in place to help you manage it not if, but when it happens to you and your family.
As far as things you can do to help protect yourself and your family, follow this list of suggestions below.
Top 21 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft
- Subscribe to a reputable credit monitoring company that not only monitors your credit on an ongoing, 24 hour, 7 day/week basis, but also provides RESTORATION (not resolution or reimbursement) and attorney access when you are a victim.
- Cross-cut shred all junk mail/documents with personal information on them before throwing them away.
- Mail all outgoing mail from a secure location such as an official United States Post Office box.
- Never give your personal information out to anyone unless you initiate the contact. Be aware of phishing, smishing, and pharming.
- When making online purchases, make sure that you are on a secure website. It will have an “s” after the http (ie: https://) Use a separate credit card with a low limit for online purchases. Using your debit card gives easier access to your bank account where your daily living expense money is more readily available.
- Copy the contents of your purse/wallet and keep in a safe place.
- Don’t just sign the back of your credit cards. Specify “Photo ID Required” or “Please see ID” with your signature.
- Never carry your social security card in your wallet/purse and have your social security number removed from your driver’s license.
- Check your bank and credit card statements regularly.
- Keep your blank checks in a secure location. When ordering new checks, have them mailed to your bank (not your home). Use your first and middle initials with your last name and your cell phone number vs. your home phone. Don’t carry your checkbook unless you know you will need it that day.
- When writing checks, use a felt tip marker or gel pen. Do not use a ballpoint pen. Ballpoint pen ink can easily be “washed”.
- Ladies, hold onto your purse while shopping. Never leave it in the cart unattended.
- Take your trash to the curb the morning of, not the night before. At the curb, it becomes public property.
- When doing anything financial online be sure to use a secure online connection in lieu of wireless (in public places).
- Opt out of credit card offers at 1-888-5-OPTOUT or online at http://www.optoutprescreen.com. This won’t stop all offers completely, but will definitely slow them down.
- Keep your computer firewall and virus protection updated.
- Use at least 8 digit passwords with a combination of letters and numbers on your accounts
- Make it a household rule that the first family member home gets the mail.
- If you opt to freeze your credit, then understand that it makes it very difficult for you to make large purchases, open accounts, etc. You have some choices as to the length of time you choose (90 days – long term).
- If your credit card has an RFID chip in it, then be sure to carry it in a security sleeve (you can find these at travel stores) or wrap in foil.
- Make your credit/debit card company and financial institution aware if you plan to travel.
If you would like to speak with Peggy about identity theft protection and insurance, contact her at 720-280-1068 and visit her website at http://www.peggyalt.com.