By Joni Lindquist
Have you been a victim of identity theft or know someone who has? Chances are you have – the statistics are staggering. According to yourscoreandmore.com, each year, 11.1 million people in the United States – nearly four percent of the population – are victims of identity theft. These numbers have increased by nearly 50% since 2007, mostly due to an increase in the use of technology.
A friend of mine recently viewed her credit card statement online and was surprised to see $8,000 in charges for a card that normally ran less than $300 per month. Imagine her further surprise to see that the charges were for multiple calls placed to a phone number listed as the “Crystal Diva,” among other names. After assuring the credit card fraud representative that she was not a patron of the Diva, she was able to have the charges reversed. Oddly enough, her credit card was in her wallet and she hadn’t used it in several weeks. This was identity theft at its most insidious.
Frightening as it sounds, banks, credit card companies, credit unions and others are well aware of the problems of identity theft and offer a wealth of advice on keeping your data safe. The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips for personal data of all types.
1. Keep important papers safe
- You should keep important papers locked up. Keep your financial documents and records in a safe place at home.
- Lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work.
- Keep your information secure from roommates or workers who come into your home.
- When you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock. Pick them up at the bank instead.
2. Limit what you carry
- When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need.
- Leave your Social Security and Medicare cards at home or in a secure place.
3. Be careful with your mail
- Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office.
- Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox.
- When gone for several days, request a hold on your mail by going to your local post office, visiting https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/, or calling the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777.
4. Invest in a shredder
- Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents before you put them in your trash.
- Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by mail. You can opt out for 5 years or permanently. To opt out for 5 years, call 1-888-567-8688 or go to https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t.
5. Protect your medical information
- Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out.
- Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products.
6. Secure your Social Security Number
- Share your Social Security number, and your child’s, only when necessary. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification.
- If someone asks you to share your Social Security number or your child’s, ask:
- why they need it
- how it will be used
- how they will protect it
- what happens if you don’t share the number
7. Be alert to impersonators online
- If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email.
- Type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service.
- Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.
8. Be alert online
- If you have online access to your credit card and bank accounts, check them frequently for unusual charges and alert the institution immediately if you see anything abnormal.
- If you pay bills online, consider consolidating all your payments to come from your bank’s site, rather than registering on each individual credit card site. The fewer places that have your bank information, the better.
9. Protect your computer and mobile device
- Use anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often.
- Install security patches for your operating system and other software programs to protect against intrusions and infections that can compromise your computer files or passwords.
- Never open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers.
- Don’t open emails from friend with odd-looking links or requests for money.
- Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
Unfortunately, identity theft is here to stay. But taking steps to protect yourself and your family could keep you from becoming victims. Click here for the FTC’s more comprehensive guide of what to do if your identity is stolen.
For more information about your specific needs, schedule a meeting by clicking below, contact Joni Lindquist –firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (913) 345-1881.