Financial expert Ethan Ewing, president of Bills.com, shares eleven tips for preventing identity theft.
First, a quip from Jack London about identity theft: “I don’t need to worry about identity theft because no one wants to be me.” Funny, and perhaps with a hint of truth? That is, famous people may be less likely to be victims of identity theft because they may guard their personal information more rigorously than us normal folk.
“Your personal information is even more valuable than the cash in your wallet because it can be used to steal part of your life,” Ewing said. “Guard it carefully to protect your future.”
For more detailed info on preventing and coping with identity theft, click on the book The Truth About Identity Theft by Jim Stickley. And, read on for Ewing’s tips on preventing identity theft…
11 Tips for Preventing Identity Theft
“Identity theft can destroy your credit and cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to correct,” said Ethan Ewing, president of free online consumer portal Bills.com. “A thief might use your bank account numbers, Social Security number, address, birth date and credit card information to make large purchases, open bank accounts, rent an apartment or pay for health care. The thief might be a stranger or a friend or relative.”
1. Protect Social Security numbers. To prevent identity theft, don’t carry your Social Security (SS) numbers or cards. Many companies routinely ask for SS numbers as customer identifiers. Politely refuse to provide the number. If your health insurance card contains the SS number, make a copy and black out the first five digits; carry that copy. Do not provide an SS number on a resume or job application – only provide the number after being hired.
2. Keep driver’s license numbers private. Thieves can use driver’s license numbers as alternate identifiers, and they provide a way to access financial accounts. This tip for preventing identity theft involves keeping your driver’s license number safe and don’t write it on paperwork.
3. Guard your mail. If possible, have mail delivered to a locked mailbox. Drop mail in an official mailbox, rather than leaving it in an unlocked home mailbox for carrier pickup. Thieves steal outgoing mail to obtain account numbers.
4. Shred private information. This tip for preventing identity theft involves shredding any paperwork or electronic media that contains private information. This includes bills, account statements and credit card offers, as well as medical information, tax information, job-related paperwork, etc.
5. Use caution online. Be sure a website uses security measures (indicated by the secure symbol in the lower right-hand corner of your screen and language about security measures, such as virus/hacker scans and secure transaction protections) before making online purchases. This tip for preventing identity theft involves being firm about withholding your credit card or other private information.
6. Be wary on the phone. Never give out private information in a phone call that you did not initiate – the caller might be impersonating a trusted business. If in doubt, ask the caller to mail or e-mail information, so you can make a purchase or contribution decision at your convenience.
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7. Get smart about scams. This tip for preventing identity theft involves being wary of offers to refinance your home or obtain a credit card with no SS number, no job or no credit. Never respond to e-mails touting huge international lottery prizes or a need for help transferring millions of dollars. Simply delete the messages – scammers are at best thieves and at worst kidnappers seeking to blackmail you into paying them.
8. Pay attention to bills. If you miss a bill that you regularly receive, call the company immediately. One identity theft method is to complete a change of address form, so the thief can use the bill as identification. This tip for preventing identity theft involves corresponding directly with organizations you regularly deal with.
9. Consider online billing. Financial institutions are among the most secure online. Many people believe e-billing (receiving statements via e-mail) can prevent identity theft because it eliminating the paper trail. This tip for preventing identity theft involves being sure the company is reliable and your e-mail address is secure.
10. Check your credit report. Check your credit report at least once a year, preferably quarterly. Each individual is entitled to one free credit report annually. Visit the websites of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), or www.annualcreditreport.com, or call to request the report. If the report includes items that are inaccurate, request the report be corrected. If you find fraudulent activity, contact the Federal Trade Commission to learn what to do.
11. Watch your children’s credit. Identity thieves love to steal children’s credit information, and it can take years to realize something is wrong. This tip for preventing identity theft means parents should watch for unsolicited credit card offers, bank statements for an account the parent did not open, and the like.
Have you experienced identity theft – and how did you deal with it?
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, read How to Protect Yourself From a Stalker.