Identity theft is an insidious crime which, like a lethal cancer, can strike anyone, anywhere and anytime. Often regarded as a situation that can only happen to someone else and never to them, identity theft invariably takes its victims by surprise. Unfortunately, far too many people wait until it’s too late to institute an identity theft protection plan.
Despite the ever-increasing publicity surrounding the massive numbers of reported identity theft, most people still do not consider it a viable threat to themselves. Not, that is, until they or someone they know falls prey to an identity thief. Then it becomes painfully apparent that identity theft is a serious crime with far-reaching and devastating consequences for its victims.
Identity thieves operate with extreme speed and efficiency. Usually, by the time you realize your identity is compromised by these unscrupulous characters, major and difficult to correct damage has already been done. Establishing a secure, commonsense identity theft protection plan is a simple and effective way to reduce the chance that you will become a victim.
In order to protect your identity from the personal devastation of being an identity theft victim and to save yourself a lot of grief and frustration, you should adhere to the following tips:
– Be aware that dumpster diving – thieves rummaging through your trash for paper containing your personal information – is one of the easiest ways for a skilled thief to assume your identity. So, you should always shred all documents containing any of your personal financial information before you discard them.
– Always protect your Social Security number. Never carry the card in your wallet or store it in the glove box of your car. Keep it in a safe place like a strongbox, safe or safe deposit box. Never write your Social Insurance number on the back of cheques. The only people who have the legal right to record your Social Security number are financial institutions (when setting up bank accounts or applying for loans), your employer (in order to process your personal tax deductions) and, of course, the tax department itself. There is no reason for any other institution to insist on having this information and you should never disclose it unless you are sure of its security.
– Never release any personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you are positive of whom you are dealing with.
– Always exercise caution in cyberspace. Never click on links contained in unsolicited email; install firewalls and anti-virus software on your computer and make sure it is updated regularly. Exercise caution when disclosing credit card information on any web page – make sure the browser of the web page is equipped with encryption service before you purchase any items with your credit card.
– Always erase and format your hard drive before discarding used computers.
– Practice awareness when conducting transactions at banking machines. Never punch in your password if another customer is standing close enough to record your keystrokes. Never use an obvious password – like your birth date, pet’s name or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Change your password regularly.
– Be aware and take action if you suddenly stop receiving regular credit card statements. Identity thieves often obtain credit cards in other people’s names simply by applying to the credit card company for an address change.
– Keep your purse or wallet secure when in public. Don’t carry all your credit cards in your wallet. Clean out your wallet regularly, removing any papers that may have financially sensitive information on them (e.g.: banking machine receipts, cancelled cheques, old utility bills, etc).
– Instead of signing your credit cards with your name, write, “please ask for Photo ID” in the space designated for your signature.
– Have the post office put a hold on your mail if you are going to be away from home for an extended period. Identity thieves are constantly on the lookout for bulging mailboxes that will most likely contain some kind of financial information they can steal.
The bottom line is to be alert. Using common sense and exercising caution when dealing with credit is often your best Protection against becoming a victim of identity theft.
If, however, despite your diligence in adhering to all the suggestions above you are unfortunate enough to become a victim of identity theft, take corrective action immediately.
The above identity theft protection plan article is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.