Identity Theft Prevention
Identity theft is a very real, very scary possibility. While some forms of theft you can do almost nothing about, many of the most common methods of identity theft can be stopped by simply changing your habits or using simple techniques. Fraud that can’t be stopped, can be caught quickly before the problem graduates from an irritation to a nightmare.
The following list are things you can do to help prevent identity theft from happening to you.
Read and Understand the Methods Used to Steal Your Identity
Taking all the precautions in the world will only be so effective if you don’t actually understand the methods thieves are using to obtain and use your identity. Reading through the Identity Theft Methods listed on this site will give you the general awareness you need to thwart the attacks from would be thieves. Awareness is one of your biggest weapons.
Click Here for Identification Theft Methods
Invest in a Cross-cut Shredder
One of your first steps to stop identity thieves from gaining access to your personal information is to shred any papers that may contain personal information. There are few laws protecting you from those who rifle through the trash, especially at community mailboxes, so you must protect yourself.
Shred any statements that show account numbers, addresses, log in information, pin numbers or even your telephone number. A clever crook can pull information from many sources to complete a full profile on you. Your best practice is to shred everything you place in the trash that might contain personal information. But most of all, be sure to shred any letters and applications of pre approval from credit card companies and credit card statements or checks. When shopping for a shredder, make sure it’s a cross-cut type. They do the best job at rendering the documents unreadable. Also buy the most powerful version you can afford. It’s nice to be able to put 6-10 pages or more at a time in the shredder without jamming it.
Use the Shredder to get rid of the stacks
of papers in your home or office.
If you’re like most of us you have a nice little pile of junk mail, and paid bills that are sitting around your home desk or in a basket by the phone. Now that you have a shredder, let’s give it a test run by shredding any documents and or mail that contain your personal information particularly those pre-qualified offers or Visa convenience checks that come with your statements. Convenience checks are very convenient for the thieves.
Organize Your Personal papers in your home and office.
Remove any mail or personal papers from easy view and access. Identity thieves love your old papers. Put your papers and mail in a location that is out of sight, and remember the shredder is your friend. Don’t keep things you don’t need. (PS recycle if possible)
Make Sure Your Online Security is Up to Date
Upgrade your security software to include a program that scans attachments and downloads from all sources. A powerful firewall and protection software can help to identify malware before it is downloaded onto your computer. Spyware and Malware can can seek out, read and report back your personal information to identity theives. Bottom line is make sure either you install or update your software or have someone you trust make sure your software is up to date. McAfee and Norton are two of the More Popular choices, but you can also look at Panda Internet Security and others.
You can find a complete review by PC Magazine here.
Secure the Data on your computer in the event your computer is stolen.
It’s one thing to have virus software on your computer keeping it safe while your using it, it’s another thing to have your computer stolen giving the identify thief access to all your personal files. There are several things you can do to keep a bad situation (having your laptop stolen) from turning into a catastrophe (having your data accessed and used against you). We will be diving into this topic further in the near future, as we are testing some products and will have those results soon. In the mean time the basic concept is the following:
- Make sure you have your files backed up with some sort of offsite plan like carbonite.com or Symantec.com/spn or other. You’ll be glad you did if you loose your computer to Theft or crash
- Make sure to at minimum use the password protection of your operating system
- Consider adding password and data protection to your files. Several companies make data encryption programs such as McAfee and Others.
- You can also purchase flash drives large enough for data backup. There are many programs that sync your desired data to your flash drive.
- Be careful of what documents you store on your hard drive
- Don’t leave your laptop in your car
- Consider installing the freeware program or other that will call home in the event of theft. Adeona is a freeware program developed at University of Washington. It will make it possible for you to find your laptop in the event it’s stolen.(adeona.cs.washington.edu) Backstopp is another commercial product that’s similar.(backstopp.com)
Again we will be developing the Laptop and Computer loss recommendations more in depth after we finish testing the products we are currently researching.
Take Inventory of all Your Credit Cards and Accounts
Because part of verifying your credit report (which is one of the following steps) involves verifying your credit cards and loans, now is the perfect time to make an inventory of all your credit cards and loans so that in the event your purse or wallet is stolen you will have an inventory and contact list for all Your creditors quickly to limit damage.
Most of us would have a hard time naming even half or the credit cards and the various bits of information in our wallets or purses by heart. If your wallet is lost orstolen it could be quite an undertaking to figure out all the card issuers and their contact phone numbers. Making an inventory list can make it a painless process to cancel your stolen cards and have new ones issued.
There are a couple of ways to do this.
The easiest way is to simply write each card and item in your wallet down on a piece of paper and storing it in a safe spot. If you use this method, only write the minimum information, not the full account number. Example would be bank, type, ending four numbers, and contact number. Example: CITI BANK | VISA | Ending #: 5589 | 800-555-1234 The idea is to have a list you can get to quickly and contact all the creditors involved to report your cards or information lost or stolen.
The second option is to purchase a flash drive that requires an encrypted password to access. With a flash drive you can store all our important information, including passwords, which we will inventory next. The U3 formatted Flash Drives allow an impressive suite of security utilities to be run as software on the flashdrive. At the time of this writing we are testing the Sandisk 8 gig “Cruise” So far we are impressed by the wide selection of software available as freeware and also pad security programs. We have the “SubSembly Wallet” installed which is an application that allows you to store passwords, bank account info, credit card info, pin numbers, etc, Basically any information you would like. Even though there is room for full account numbers, in the interest of being ultra secure, we suggest you still only put in the last 4 digits. Make sure to password protect the flash drive with a strong password and make sure to write it down. Don’t keep them together.
The flash drives have some great advantages
- You can backup your important files on the flash drive so if your computer is stolen you still have your files. There are automatic Sync programs that do this for you.
- Some Flash Drives even have a second backup online so if you loose the flash drive the old one is wiped clean and you can purchase a new one and have all the files restored.
- The U3 Drives allow you operate software such as browsers, security tools, Its like having a small computer that runs your software on any computer.
Inventory and Clean up Your Online Password Usage
Most of us have many sites we use from time to time and would be hard pressed to name them all from memory. It’s time to make an inventory of all those sites so just in case your laptop is stolen or hacked you will have a quick reference that will allow you to move faster than the thieves to go directly to the sites, and change any passwords. You can use this template or create your own.
- Go to each site and log in
- Strengthen Your passwords - Thieves know that many people use their birthday, childrens names or birthdays, pets names, etc as passwords. They easily hacked. Really this one is a no brainer. Don’t Use Them! Change them right now. It’s worth noting that if you use a security thumb/flash drive to keep your passwords you can use much more complicated passwords without having to remember them.
- Make sure your security question is something that only you would know, and not something you would readily give to someone in a normal conversation, such as what’s your first pets name?
- Write them down in the inventory list with the user name but not the password. With the user name you can retrieve the password if needed. Or put into the program of your choice on your flash drive.
- Store this list somewhere safe, maybe alongside the credit card inventory. Don’t keep this list on your computer.
Inventory and pair down your Wallet or Purse
Most of have forgotten what we carry around each day. And of course we never intend on loosing it. But the fact is we do lose our wallets and purses, so the question is…Do I really need to carry all the items in my purse or wallet? Take everything out of your wallet or purse and sort through it.
Firstly, do you need all those credit cards all the time? Carry only what you think you need on an average day. Store the others in a safe spot at home. Somewhere secure, but that you check often enough that you would know in the event of a robbery.
What else do you carry? Make sure you don’t have yours social security card in your wallet or anything else that would hand a thief your identity on a silver platter. It’s one thing to have a credit card stolen and have to cancel it. It’s another to have your social security number out there floating free. Again, you’ve heard it how many times? TAKE YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY CARD OUT OF YOUR WALLET
Make sure to update the Waller / Purse inventory list so you know which ones you carry and which you don’t.
Take an Initial Inventory of Your Credit Report (See www.annualcreditreport.com)
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nations Credit Reporting agencies Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, to allow you access to your credit report once each year. We suggest you use them spread throughout the year to monitor your credit at least 3 time during the year.. The first one should be used to simply verify the information contained in your report and look for any activity that is taking place such as accounts or addresses that are not familiar. Print the report and carefully check each item. If you find errors in your credit report this is a good time to clean them up. It may also be an indicator of fraud either in process or one you don’t know about yet. To correct errors contact the credit reporting agency (See full guidelines and your rights at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre34.shtm
To Receive you free credit reports go to annualcreditreport.com
If you suspect fraud see our Identity Theft Recovery Plan Here
WARNING: Be careful to go to the correct website, as you will be giving your SSN. This is fine as long as you are on the official site as it is a secure site.
Schedule a Credit Report Review at least
3 times a year with annual credit report
By law you are granted a minimum of one credit report from each of the national credit reporting agencies each year. We suggest you use all three spread across the year. Just like the initial evaluation of your credit report you will want to look through the report to verify there has not been any suspicious activity or activity no belonging to you. Now is a good time to put it on your calendar for 3-4 months down the line.
Consider Sign Up for a monitoring service
The best way to truly protect yourself from the hundreds of possibilities is to watch your credit reports and look for traces of your information online on a very regular basis. For most, it is impossible to invest this much time looking for problems. Instead, you may consider a fraud protection program that offers these services. Some of the obvious ones are lifelock, TrustedID, IdentityGuard, as well as many credit card companies are offering programs also.
Verify that all Credit Cards You carry have Zero Liability Protection
Again because you now have an easy list to work from call the 800 numbers on the backs of all the credit cards and verify which have Zero Liability for fraud charges and which do not. Only carry cards that do.
Signup for the Online Access for each Credit Card and Online banking
By accessing your credit card accounts and checking accounts online you will be able to monitor your accounts between statements. It’s a very easy way to keep track of what activity is happening on your account and in many cases you can set notices for various activity that can be emailed to you.
• Set alerts if available of maximum, amounts transferred or minimum balances
• Leave only enough in the account to cover monthly bills.
• Can be put in vault on flash drive.
Clean up your social networking sites
You can still enjoy having your facebook or myspace account, but you should limit the amount of information you give out on those types of sites.
- Never give your full birth date (friends will already know it)
- Never give out your physical or mailing address
- Never give out your phone number
- Set your privacy setting to only allow people you approve to view any information about you.
- Accept friend request only from people you know. That gorgeous blond might be a 200 lb man named Ivan from Russia that wants to make friends and then take your identity for a ride.
- Interesting Identity Theft and Facebook Article
Install a Locked Mail Box, Mail Slot or Open PO Box
If you receive mail at home consider installing a locked mail bock or a mail slot in your door. These are simple to install and work the effort. If you can’t install a secure mail box consider renting a post office box. Also
Reduce your amount of junk mail
You can reduce the number of credit and insurance offers you get by opting out See: Optoutprescreen.com
Further reduce the amount of mail by writing to the following address, or visiting the web site: www.dmaconsumers.org/offmailinglist.html - there is a fee for using the web site.
Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 282
Carmel, NY 10512
Commit to being more careful with your Email and ask family members to do the same.
Your best defense against online phishing and malware is to be aware of your own actions and take steps to protect yourself every day. Phishing involves emails that appear to be from your bank, credit card company or other business. When you log in to a fake site to resolve an imaginary issue, your personal information is recorded by others.
If you receive these sorts of emails, never click through the links in the emails. Instead, open a new web browser and go to the website you know is correct for the institution. If there is a real problem, you will likely have a notification immediately through your real account.
Commit to being cautious in general
Part of not being an Identity Theft victim is simply being more cautious. Caution is likely your best weapon.
General dos and don’ts
- Always be on alert when surfing web pages
- Never accept downloads without running them through your virus protection
- Don’t leave your computer in your car
- Don’t use usernames and passwords over a wireless network at the coffee shop.
- Make sure you see the security icon when shopping online plus the https
- Don’t’ click on links in emails period. Thieves can make it look like a coworker or administration sent it. Verify it first.
- Don’t give personal info over the phone. Tell them you’ll call them back.
- If you move have your mail forwarded
- If you move contact all your account holders so mail does not get sent to old addresses
- If you sell your computer wipe the drive or if it’s old a Hammer will do the trick
- Take advantage of all privacy or opt-out policies of every company you deal with or site you visit.
- Have your Checks sent to the bank where you will pick them up rather than sent to your mail box
- Don’t let the browser remember your user and password. This would give a thief easy access to your passwords if your computer was stolen.
- When purchasing things online form a source you are not familiar with, don’t spend more than you can afford to lose. It can be difficult for law enforment to help you recover your losses over state lines.
Educate your Children
It important to educate your children of the dangers of Identify theft and worse.
Consider a Security Freeze of Your Credit
If you don’t anticipate applying for credit in the need future, consider a security freeze for your social security number with the 3 credit reporting agencies. By putting a security free on your account creditors that try to access your credit information will be notified there is a lock which in turn will mean they will deny credit to the person attempting to open credit in your name. This is good for children who are not seeking credit and can easily be victims of credit fraud.
Consider Renting a Safety Deposit Box
Consider a safety deposit box for your most important papers, such as deeds, passport, Social Security Card, Birth Certificates, tax returns, etc.