So, Let’s consider: Guarding Against Identity Theft
Identity Theft. We’ve all heard it. Some of us have be the victims of it. It’s a royal pain in the ass when it happens to you. It’s not going away any time soon.
So, let’s consider a few things we can do to help protect ourselves in this war against identity thieves.
Memorize your Social Security Number (SSN) and leave the card at home!
Frankly, unless you’re applying for a job or have to show proof of citizenship, etc., there’s no real reason to be carrying your SSN card around with you at all. Leave it at home in a secure place. Perhaps the same place you leave your passport, birth certificate, etc.
Your SSN is THE biggest piece of identity information that a thief would want. Once they have it, there’s very little about you that they can get, find and use against you. It IS the key to your identity.
PROTECT YOUR SSN
We’ve already said that it’s the single most useful key to you that anyone would want. So, don’t give it out to anyone that doesn’t have a REAL need for it.
Real needs to NOT include: Credit card application, “we need it for ID”, or my favorite: “we need it for our computer…” Trust me, their computer won’t die of malnutrition if it doesn’t have your SSN and if they want your business they’ll find another way.
One of the biggest issues I run into with SSN’s is things like doctor’s offices that think they need it to “verify your insurance.” Uh, that’s what your insurance card is for. Period, end of story. Ask them how they treat patients that aren’t US citizens and you’ll find that they generally assign them some arbitrary number – tell them to do the same for you. Having been in IT for over 35 years I’ve seen how your SSN can be used and abused against you and trust me you don’t want it out in some medical history database for any other insurance companies or vendors to be able to paw through at will.
Further if your student ID or driver’s license is your SSN, ask that it be removed and that another number be issued to you immediately.
Get a good shredder and USE IT
In getting a shredder you want one of those models that makes total confetti out of what you feed into it. The ones that just make strips of paper out of your documents are basically useless. Here what you’re doing is making the other guy’s data easier to use than yours. Thieves are generally looking for quick access to information and if you make yours hard to get then they’ll most likely go on to someone else that’s not as smart.
If you have a fireplace or a fire pit handy, use it. In my office I have 2 trash cans by my desk. One is for non-burnables (empty coke cans, etc) and the other is a paper bag for burnables…I call it my “burn bag”. When it gets full, I take it over to the fire place and strike a match to it. Problem solved.
Shed or burn anything sensitive
My personal policy is that if it has “names or numbers” on it, it gets shredded or burned. This includes credit card statements, bank statements, anything from any government agency, tax office, business associates, etc. If it’s not something I wouldn’t mind reading on the front page of the Washington Post, it gets shredded.
Use public Wi-Fi hot spots with care
Connecting to Wi-Fi in the coffee shop can be really convenient, but don’t use it to pay your phone bill. Same thing with any other public Wi-Fi connection be it at the airport, school, shopping center, etc. Presume that someone is monitoring what you’re sending across the internet, and trust me it’s not hard to do.
Further, if you don’t see “HTTPS” at the start of your web url line, DO NOT EVER trust the connection for any financial transaction security or any other connection security that you’re going to be sending someone private data to. Connections without the httpS at the front of them are presumed to be unsecure by definition.
Use common sense with your mail
OK, this may sound redundant, but don’t leave your outgoing mail in a pile somewhere. Put it IN the US Mailbox. Also give serious consideration to getting a post office box for your mail. They’re not cheap but they’re not that expensive either and they can buy you a lot of peace of mind when it comes to reducing the risk of someone pilfering through your stuff.
Treat your personal information as “need to know”
To many this is obvious but you’d really be surprised how stupid some people can be. If it’s your private information and someone doesn’t have a need to know it, don’t tell them! When filling out forms that want your whole life history and all the information they can get about you, THINK! If they don’t need it to provide the services that you’re negotiating for, then don’t give it to them! You can’t control what other people do with your information but you can damn sure prevent them from getting it in the first place!
This also extends to what you share on social media. Presume that if you post it to your page that the whole world can find out about it. It never ceases to amaze me how stupid people can be when I read “we’re going to Aruba next Sunday for 2 weeks!”….if I’m looking for a house to hit I now know I have 2 weeks to hit theirs! Wait until AFTER you come back to post your pictures from your vacation and share your good times with others. And avoid the “check in” options on social media where restaurants and other sites use the “check in at Charley’s bar and grill” feature while you’re there. You’re just telling the world where you are and making yourself a target. THINK!
Don’t share PIN’s or passwords – and don’t write them down!
You’d be surprised how obvious this is and how frequently it’s what compromises a persons security. Never tell anyone security access information unless you not only trust them BUT that they also have need to know. And, NEVER WRITE THEM DOWN in a public place – like posting them to your fridge door, under your keyboard, post it pads on your computer screen, etc. This is just asking for problems and they will find you.
These tips are not intended to be totally foolproof or to provide 100% security. Nothing can do that, but they’ll go a long way to making someone else a much easier target for someone that wants to do harm. Don’t make life easy for criminals. They’re unforgiving once they find a way to get what they want and that can be really expensive and painful for you to recover from
Finally, some companies offer what they call “identity theft insurance”. If you look at this kind of a policy, use a strong reputable firm and make sure you read all the details before you sign up. Caveat emptor.
If you feel that your privacy has been compromised, contact the appropriate agency, vendor, credit card company, law enforcement agency, etc., and get things resolved quickly. The sooner you’re aware and act the sooner things can get fixed. Be proactive at all times. Read and review all your financial statements watching for any anomalies and transactions that you didn’t incur.
Here’s hoping that you’ve gained a few items you can use from this list and that the crooks find someone else more interesting than you.
I’m Don Rima and that’s the view From Where I Stand.