I often sit and wonder what I can share with my readers. Lawdog gives some great advice and instruction on how to protect yourself from critters who like to pounce on their victims in the proverbial dark parking lot or alley. While I have some similar training, I have a lot more experience in keeping virtual critters out of your financial business.
With that in mind I sat down and did a little research on ways to prevent identity theft.
Anyone who has ever gone through a big case of having their identity co-opted out from under them, knows what a HUGE pain in the butt it is. The sad thing is, there are some very simple steps you can take to help keep your name off the list of people waiting to hear from their local police department that there has been some break. The sad truth of that is, there are so many of those cases out there that you could end up at the bottom of a VERY long list of victims.
In an effort to save you that grief, I thought I’d throw out some steps and encourage you all to find out more. Think of it like building a fortress around your good name. The more important your name is to you, the thicker and higher the walls you will want to build. I am currently working to build a virtual version of Alcatraz around my credit. Nothing in or out unless I put my eyes on it and allow it to pass.
The first thing I would suggest is NEVER let your mail sit in your mail box. If you aren’t home when the postman brings your things around, get yourself a locking mail box for your home or if your post office won’t use one, a PO Box and use it. One of the most common methods that identity theft critters use is just to simply follow the mail truck and steal the mail out of the boxes right behind him. In this same line of thinking, if you still use paper checks, have your bank change the delivery option for your checks. I strongly recommend having them delivered to your local bank branch and go pick them up there when they come in. I know it may be inconvenient, but not nearly so much so as trying to recover from some critter writing hot checks in your name.
Shred every piece of paper with your name and address on it that you throw away. Plain and simple. Drive to your local Wally World or office supplies shop and buy yourself a $40 shredder and use it. I even shred my junk mail. No paper leaves my house in pieces larger than ¼” by 1”. If I had an incinerator, I’d burn it all. Trash is another very common place that people have their personal information taken.
Keep the antivirus and anti-spyware software on your computer current and if you don’t have any GET SOME. If you are on cable internet or DSL, your computer is an open window into your life. Protect it. You’ll be glad you did.
I have been hearing a lot about a company named LifeLock. Most of what they offer you can do for yourself, but just to satisfy my curiosity I went to their website. Understand, I am NOT endorsing their service. They had a great analogy for what they do though. Think of it like changing your own oil. It’s not hard and you can save some money, but unless you are diligent, your car won’t get the same level of service that a professional could provide. So, what I AM saying is that if you are like me and tend to let small things slip, a service like this might be a good option.
As to what they do for you that you can do for yourself.
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit report. With this in place any business who receives an application for credit under your name/social security number will have to contact you to verify that you are indeed the one applying for that credit. Fraud alerts must be renewed every 90 days. Some states will allow you to even permanently lock your credit report effectively making it impossible to use it. With a lock in place, you will have to contact the credit bureau to lift the lock. There are costs involved in doing that, but again it is cheaper than recovering from having fraud committed against you. My state will only allow locks after you are a victim. I am helping that to change by contacting my state senator and U.S. Representative. Until then, I will be placing and renewing fraud alerts on my and my family’s credit reports.
2. Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers. You can do this at http://optoutprescreen.com. If you do it on the web it must be renewed every five years. You can opt out permanently by mail. The instructions are on that site.
3. Take advantage of the free annual credit report available to you by each bureau. You can do that at this site https://annualcreditreport.com. Review them and dispute anything that doesn’t belong. Be careful of the services that advertise on television that claim to get it for you for free. Most times they want you to subscribe to a credit monitoring service. If you’ve done step 1 above, then you don’t really need to subscribe. The website above is free. Most credit bureaus will want a small fee to provide you with the actual credit score.
4. Safeguard your personal items like wallets and ATM cards. Don’t leave them laying about and NEVER give your PIN to ANYONE for ANY REASON. I can’t tell you how many times we have had members/customers who have been ripped off by a family member they thought they could trust. If you just have to give your PIN to someone for an emergency, get that card re-pinned as soon as possible. Your bank or credit union will most likely do this for you for free.
5. The biggest thing they provide is insurance if they fail you. You are your own best insurance.
I think the most important thing to remember is just to be diligent. Educate yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of “it won’t happen to me” because it can and will. The only way we will ever put a stop to this crime is to protect ourselves. Law enforcement just doesn’t have the resources to be proactive. They can only help you after you’re a victim, and the help they can give is minimal. Be your own best defense.