How to Minimize Risks of Identity Theft

by Joe on January 25, 2010

Identity theft is becoming more and more prevalent and many people including me have become victims of this wave of crime. Three months ago, we started receiving stuff at home (coffee makers, detergents) that we had no idea where they were coming from, and we had not ordered. We then realized that someone was using my bank card to make purchases online. They started with 39cents, charge, then $1, $5, and then $56 on i-tunes, and a $1700 charge on sears online – all within three day period. Luckily the $1700 charge required card holder authorization and sears card security called to confirm if i was making that transaction. I called the bank and filed a claim against these charges, and closed my cards. The person who had my bank card number, also  had my home address and my phone number as well and this could have been the beginning of mental torture trying to think what else the identity thief knew about me or what they would do with the information they had.

As noted by University of Maryland university college:

It’s impossible for you to keep all your information private. Every time you go to a doctor, your insurance card and drivers license is photocopied and available to anyone who opens your folder. At a restaurant, your credit card is taken away and returned some time later, with copies easily made. If you write checks to pay your credit cards, you may write your credit card number on the check, which is seen by any number of people who handle the check. You can’t eliminate opportunities for identity theft, but you can make it much harder for the thief.

 How Identity Can Be Stolen

Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including, from old conventional ways to hi-tech tactics here are some few methods that identity thieves uses.

  • Dumpster Diving. Identity thieves rummage through trash looking for bills, bank statements or other paper with your personal information on it.
  • Phishing. The Identity thieves pretend to be financial institutions or companies. This happens when tech savvy thieves create a website similar to that one of a bank or financial institution and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
  • Old-Fashioned Stealing & Burglary. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
  • Pretexting.  This is also popularly referred to as ‘social engineering’ in the business world. The identity thief uses false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources. In this case a thieve may call you, claiming  he’s from a research firm, and ask you for your name, address, birth date, and social security number. When the ‘thief’ has the information he wants, he uses it to call your financial institution. He pretends to be you or someone with authorized access to your account.
  • Wireless Hacking – This happens when a home wireless is left open with no form of security and a hacker redirects traffic from that network to somewhere else. This requires technical knowledge but this information is also available online so anybody with motivation to steal can find how to hack online.
  • Address Change. Malicious identity thieves will go to the extent of changing your mailing address by completing a change of address form so that they can divert your billing statements and other personal documents to another location. (Although not very common it is possible) If you do not receive your statement on time, someone may be using a fraudulent change of address. Call the creditor first and then the post office to see if a change of address has been filed in your name.

 How To Minimize Possibilities Of Identity Theft

  • Put a password on your credit card accounts. Use a strong password and change it often. People who know you also know your birthday and names of your family members. When protecting yourself from identity theft, always assume that the thief is not a stranger. Avoid using family names or combinations of birthdates.
  • Check your statements. Check your billing statements each month for fraudulent charges and report them immediately.
  • Check your credit report. Under federal law consumers are entitled to a single free credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Ask for a copy of your credit report once a year from www.annualcreditreport.com. Since i can get a copy from each reporting agency, i try to get a copy every quarter this way I can see if there is erroneous entry into my credit record round the year.
  • Reduce info give-aways Personal Information-gathering from merchants, creditors, government agencies, employers, educational institutions, and others is becoming more and more prevalent. Don’t automatically fill out every blank on every application. Ask yourself if they really have a valid need for the information they are requesting and use good judgment.
  • Keep your numbers to yourself. Don’t put credit card numbers on checks or envelopes. Don’t give account numbers over the phone unless you made the call. Always tear up or shred pre-approved credit card applications before throwing them away.
  • Destroy before disposing It’s not sane to keep all documents with personal information forever. When you have to dispose these documents like bank statements, bills medical records etc, invest in a ‘good’ shredder (one that cuts both horizontal and vertical) to shred these documents.
  • Enforce at least basic Security on home wireless node -It bothers me when i scan wireless access available around our home and find 50% are not secured. Putting a password on your wireless router makes the thief works harder to try breaking it – and given a choice any thief would go into an open door first before they ram into a reinforced steel door. People who think that using other people’s unsecured wireless is a good idea should also use caution because bad guys also leave their wireless open to lure you in and then once you connect to their wireless they can ‘sniff’ the information you are transmitting.
  • Do not carry SSN card around savysugar notes that “it’s simple, but nonetheless important to remember. There’s no reason to have this card on you while you’re out running errands. Store it safely at home, always.”

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