Thursday, April 17, 2008

Top Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

Identity theft is something we must all take seriously. Dan Reilly wrote this post and I don't want to benefit from these top tips to avoid identity theft.

1. Shred everything
Anything with an account number, signature, social security number or any personal information can be used against you, and since most people throw this stuff in the trash, it's readily available for dumpster-diving thieves. Shredding your bills, ATM and credit card receipts, pay stubs, back statements and anything else with confidential info is a much safer alternative. If the paper shredder you use cuts horizontally and vertically across the paper, that's even better, since it makes taping the paper back together difficult. Likewise, any digital data on hard drives, CDs, or DVDs should also be fully wiped or physically destroyed. On the plus side, shredding is kind of fun.

2. Watch your back
While many identity thefts take place anonymously via the Internet and the phone, sometimes the crimes are committed by people standing right behind you. Whenever you're entering private information, such as account or PIN numbers, make sure that nobody else is watching. You might feel rude doing so, but you're better safe than sorry.

3. Keep Track Of Your Documents
Unless you absolutely have to, don't walk around in public with your social security card, passport, birth certificate, or extra bank cards. You'll rarely need them, and you can be in big trouble if they get lost. On that note, if you lose your wallet or even a single bank card, make sure to cancel it immediately, even if you think you'll find it soon. Credit cards only hold you liable for $50 charged on your card before you report it missing, but debit cards can hold you liable for up to $500 if you wait more than two days to report it missing.

4. Check your statements, bills, and credit reports
Whenever you receive a bill or bank statement in the mail, check it in a timely fashion for any bizarre charges or activity. If you see a bunch of charges you never made, it's possible that someone got a hold of more than just your credit card number. If you see anything, report it immediately to prevent any further harm. Also, get a yearly credit report to see if there's anything amiss, which can be done for free at sites like Even thought it might make you cringe to look at it, at least you know you're not being harmed.

5. Protect your mail
Stolen mail is one of the easiest ways a thief can find and use your identity. Although it makes up a small percentage of overall identity crimes – only 4% as of 2005 – it still affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, which is why you should take steps to physically protect your mail. If you can, purchase a lockable mailbox or a mail slot for your door. When sending mail, put it in a secure U.S. Post Office collection bin rather than leave it in your mailbox. If you're going to be away, even for short periods of time, have your mail held at the post office. Finally, put as little personal info – as in, never account or social security numbers – on the outside of envelopes.

6. Protect your computer
There are many suckers on the Internet, and many more smart people who don't adequately protect their computers. Regularly updating your computer's spyware and virus protection software can prevent criminals from gaining access to accounts and credit cards, so keep your safeguards current. Also, make sure you know who you're dealing with online – buy products and download files only from trusted sites and beware of phishing scams. Finally, just as when you're dealing with telemarketers, never give out personal information unless you're the one who made contact first.

7. Avoid pre-approved credit card offers
Credit card offers that you receive in the mail are an easy way for scammers to set up accounts in your name. Rather than throwing them away in the trash, shred or destroy them to make sure nobody can get to them. Then, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends you call 1-888-5-OPTOUT or visit to take you off the lists for receiving pre-approved credit and insurance offers from the major companies. It's quick to do and you'll feel better, and as a bonus, your junk mail will be cut down.

8. Work on your passwords
Sure, it's a pain to have to remember a bunch of different passwords, but compared to losing your savings, it's a piece of cake. Choosing obscure words, capitalizing certain letters and inserting numbers and symbols are all easy ways to prevent someone from being able to guess your password. Changing them on a monthly basis and using different passwords for different access points will also guard your privacy. Finally, even though it seems obvious, don't share any of your passwords with anybody.

9. Protect your checks
Keep your checks as secure as possible, given that the information regularly printed on them – name, address, and bank account number – can pretty much give the keys to your life to any common ID thief. If you live anywhere where others have access, like a dorm, then be sure to hide your checkbook or keep it locked away. Don't print your driver's license, social security, or credit card numbers on the checks themselves if you don't have to, and shred any canceled checks with vital information on them. Another option is to have your first initial instead of your full first name printed on the check, so even if a thief gets a hold of one, he or she won't have your full name. Finally, when ordering new checks, pick them up from your bank instead of getting them mailed to you.

10. Guard against RFID theft
As we've noted before, the amount of personal information transmitted by RFID, or radio frequency identification (the same technology used to collect money at highway toll plazas, for example) is increasing. Hackers can steal the information on your passport, credit cards, employee IDs -- all of which have RFID tags -- using only a laptop and an antenna, so protect yourself by purchasing a metal-lined wallet or keeping your documents wrapped in aluminum foil.

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Anonymous said...

Good tips. You can never be too careful when it comes to identity theft. These guys seemed to have some good tips on identity theft as well: Identity Theft Prevention.

Chris said...

I never knew that hackers could steal information that uses RFID. That's a little scary. These days identity theft protection is getting more and more complicated and difficult.