Identity theft is a very lengthy and ugly ordeal. It is next to impossible to reverse and it can take several years before credit companies stop bothering you constantly with collection calls. In addition, it may cost you thousands of dollars to fight.
How does identity theft occur? It occurs when an identity thief obtains your social security number, bank account numbers, birth date and other pertinent information. After they steal your information, they can easily order your birth certificate online. All numbers lead to you.
The following 12 tips can help save your identity and your sanity.
1. Order your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. You are allowed one free credit report from each of these agencies every year. Check your credit report carefully and close any accounts that you no longer use.
2. Avoid carrying your checkbook with you unless it’s absolutely necessary. Many identity thefts occur by stealing checkbooks and forging checks. A thief can take scrapings from the check below the prior check to obtain your signature. (The same rule applies to credit cards.)
3. Guard your social security number, birth date, and your mother’s maiden name with extra care. Without this information, an identity thief will be unable to steal your identity.
4. Avoid putting paid bills and anything that contains personal information and your signature in your home mailbox. Instead, take them to the Post Office or hand them to your mail carrier. If you work outside of your home, bring them to work and drop them in the mail slot at your work. Many thieves pickpocket out of mailboxes. Once a thief has your mail at his / her home, they open it and use special chemical washes over the checks to wipe out all the information with the exception of your signature. Now they have a blank check with your signature on it and can drain your bank account.
5. Purchase a good paper shredder. The cost of a paper shredder is a lot less money than credit card offers stolen and taken out in your name. Shred all old documents that have any information about you, as well as bank records, tax records that are no longer needed and any offers, especially credit card offers that come in the mail. A safe bet is to shred any paper with your information on it that you no longer need.
6. Never trust an email that asks you to click on a link from a company that may have any information about you. Instead, open your browser and hand type in the website URL you are familiar with, not the one in the email, if you believe you need to respond. Better yet, call the institution with the phone number you already have on file. This rule applies to more than just banking information. Never click on links inside an email from eBay, Paypal, your ISP provider, the I.R.S., etc. All of these accounts have your bank or credit card information in them.
7. Forget taking surveys via telephone. If someone calls to ask you to participate in a survey, the person calling is getting a lot of personal information about you that is none of their business. Politely state that you aren’t interested, to please take you off their list and then hang up.
8. The Social Security Administration sends out a statement every year (about four months prior to your birth date) with your information. Check it carefully to make sure it’s accurate.
9. Do not add your social security number, phone number or driver’s license number to your checks. If the information is required by a store, you can always write that information on the check manually. This will help ensure that information is safe should your checkbook be stolen.
10. Always take great care in checking not only your bank statements but also your credit card statements to ensure that everything is correct and all transactions are ones that are familiar to you. If you find something you do not recognize, file a dispute immediately. You can file disputes up to 60 days after something is not correct in most states; but after that, the money is gone forever, even if it was a fraudulent transaction. Many crooks are learning how to make E.F.T. withdrawals from bank accounts by using the swiping machines you have used to purchase items at legitimate companies / stores to make duplicate or larger charges later on.
11. When looking for a job online, it’s always best to visit your desired place of employment in person when it’s necessary to give out your personal information and identification. There are job postings from seemingly well-known companies seeking someone with your job skills. After you contact them via email, a phone call will ensue later on. During the subsequent phone calls, you will be asked to give out more and more personal and financial information, including your social security number. Don’t go there. Always go to the brick and mortar building and into the human resources office to fill out an application. If it’s out-state, then go online to find out the corporate headquarters office and call them directly, without using the phone number the person in the email or on the job site provided. (There are more detailed scams than this one, but you get the picture.)
12. Never pay to recover money you have lost in a scam. There are companies that offer to help you recover money that you’ve been scammed out of for only a small fee. These companies are often headed by the very company that scammed you out of the money in the first place. The facts are that sadly, you will most likely never recover money lost in a scam, but it’s best to leave that up to the authorities. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be proactive, but certainly don’t pay anyone to help you recover the money.
The last tip is to say thank you to the store clerk who asks for your I.D. when you use your credit card. It always amazes me when clerks don’t check for I.D. or signature validation when they accept a credit card or a check.
I have often asked about this and the answer is always the same, “If you have the credit card, you must be the owner.” The thoughtful store clerks who do ask for I.D. are acting as a safety net for you and are watchdogs for your finances. Be thankful and happy they are willing to do their job correctly and take the time to ensure your safety.
If you feel you have fallen victim to identity theft, fraud or have been ripped off by a company, always file a dispute with the Better Business Bureau (BBB); and if it’s fraud related, contact your local police department as well as the F.B.I.
Then be sure to add fraud alerts to all of your bank and credit card accounts. You can also add a fraud alert with the credit monitoring services such as TransUnion and Experian. You only need to add this information to one of the services, as they will forward your information to the others.
The best way to help avoid identity theft, rip-offs and scams is to be alert and on the lookout. Punishment for identity thieves seems to be next to impossible to achieve. The only way you can really protect yourself is by taking the steps needed to help prevent identity theft from occurring.