Note: This is Part 2 of 4 in a series of posts on identity theft protections and how to safeguard your personal and financial information.
Welcome back! How’s the headache?
In the last post, Identity Theft Protections: Being Safe Online, we talked about ways you can protect yourself from identity theft, focusing mainly on threats associated with the Web, such as phishing scams.
This post will focus on protecting yourself in the off-line world, but first we want to mention one egregious threat you might encounter in both places.
Prevent Falling Victim to Charitable Giving Scams
You read that right. Identity thieves are not known for their moral scruples. They’re willing to play on your compassion and happy to redirect your hard-earned dollars to “causes” you never intended. The recent catastrophes in Japan, for example, are being exploited (prompting this part of the post), and rarely does a year go by without some major disaster somewhere. Identity thieves use these to gain your compassion and your credit card number, using online and real-world tactics, including phone calls and solicitations right at your door.
Prevent an identity theft disaster! Remember the rules for online safety. Never give out your account information in response to an email, pop-up screen, or advertisement. If you’re donating to a charity, browse to their site directly.
Ensure the charity you’re donating to is reputable and that the name isn’t a close approximation of a real charity’s name.
Don’t let yourself be bullied! If they claim you pledged, but you don’t remember doing so, take the time to check. Know exactly where your money is going. If someone is being vague, pushy, or otherwise suspicious, stop the transaction. It’s OK to hang up or close the door. A real charity would never bully you.
Refer to the FTC Charity Checklist from the Federal Trade Commission for more tips before donating to a charity.
Now for our intended topic: staying safe in the offline or real world. Identity theft still takes place the old-fashioned way, too!
Safeguard Your Wallet
What’s in your wallet? If you look in there and see every credit card you have, your social security card, checkbook, receipts with your credit card number, and banking password or PIN on a post-it note, consider yourself a walking jackpot for identity thieves. Don’t make it so easy! Don’t write down your passwords and PINs (these should be hard enough for no one to guess, but easy enough for you to memorize). Carry only the minimum in cards, cash, and identification – just what you really need.
And you never need that social security card.
Also, where is your wallet? Pickpockets and purse-snatchers love an inattentive owner. Keep your wallet where it can’t be easily taken off your person – ladies should keep their purses zipped and close to their bodies and men should beware of carrying their wallet in their back pockets, where they always have their back turned to potential perpetrators.
Be Aware of Credit Card Theft
Some debate exists about whether or not to sign your credit card. On the one hand, if you sign, you’re giving a potential identity thief access to your signature, which he or she may then copy. On the other hand, if you don’t sign, they can make up their own version of your signature and no one will ever know the difference. Some people advocate not signing and putting “See ID” or a similar message in the signature block. But a few places (such as the Post Office) won’t accept an unsigned credit card, with or without ID… getting a headache yet?
A possible solution is to sign and put “See ID,” but ultimately you can’t count on merchants to verify, especially since many locations now have you swipe your card without the cashier.
Never loan out your credit card. No, not to anyone, not ever. It’s an ugly fact of life that identity “borrowing” happens within families, too, and can create just as much of a mess.
Finally, perhaps the simplest tip is to be sure you have your credit card with you. Did you get it back from the waiter or waitress? Nice as she or he was, a little side business in fraud could augment tips very nicely.
Who’s got Your Mail and what’s in Your Trash?
Fraud can start in your mailbox.
If you move, ensure that you notify your account holders of address changes immediately. You don’t want your mail sitting in an unmonitored mailbox.
On the receiving end, before you throw away paper, including “junk” mail, stop and think. Shred anything with your identifying information on it instead of throwing it out. Trash is a great data mining resource for identity thieves. If they run across a credit card application prefilled with your information, for example, what’s to stop them for applying for the card in your name?
If you still use “snail mail” to pay bills, the checks you’re sending have your name, address, and account numbers on them. Better to drop them off in a locked postal box instead of putting them in your mailbox. Do you really want to raise that bright red flag when your financial security is at stake?
Be Vigilant and Trust Your Gut
The sooner you see that something is wrong and contact your financial institution about it, the better! So sign up for online banking, read your monthly statements, and monitor your credit report. Follow up on any unauthorized charges, even very small ones, since thieves will occasionally try a test run before they go on a spending spree.
It’s easy to become a victim of identity theft. You need to be wary at all times, of all people, in all situations, real or virtual.
Best tip of all? TRUST YOUR GUT INSTINCTS. Remember, thieves are tech-savvy and creative, and they work very hard at improving their “job skills.” They have nothing to lose, but you do! Don’t underestimate them.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what to do if you’re the victim of identity theft. The good news is that you can get through it all and get your record restored. The bad news is it will require lots of patience… and possibly aspirin.