Stop, Thief!

Posted on 24 January 2010


Identity Thief

Identity theft is rampant and escalating.  It is a crime whose impact is often disastrous and life altering.  To protect yourself against the potentiality of victimization, never let your guard down.   Check all of your bills frequently for charges you never made.  And consider taking the steps below to safeguard you and your family against the theft of your identify and finances.

 

 1.      Do not carry your social security card in your wallet.  This is one of the most vital pieces of information a thief needs to initiate accounts in your name, including loans for big-ticket items such as cars.

 

 2.      Never, ever recite your social security number to anyone.  This includes those with a “need to know” such as the bank that owns your mortgage or the company that leases your car.  Tell the representative that you will give them only the last four digits of your social security number, as this is all that they should really be privy to.  If the rep gives you a hard time, demand to speak with a manager.  Citigroup is now fighting a rumor that their patron’s records have been compromised to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.  The wise know that most rumors have their basis in fact.

 

 3.      Do not give out your telephone number or email address to those who do not need to have them.  This includes clerks at sales counters promising discount coupons in exchange for your personal information.  Trust me, the coupons will never amount to, say, the $130K of debt incurred by a young woman of my acquaintance by way of the bastard who stole her identity.

 

  4.     Change your password from account to account.  The strongest passwords are those that combine letters and numbers.  Do not use passwords that include your mother’s maiden name, for that can be traced back to more accounts than you even remember.

 

 5.      Monitor your snail mail and your emails carefully.  Some “pre-approved credit cards” arrive as checks that you can deposit to your bank account.  Once deposited, you’ve left a paper trail straight to your account.  Retrieve your mail promptly to prevent would-be thieves from ripping off your credit card account numbers and other person information contained in bills and other forms of correspondence.

 

With respect to emails, delete any and all that come from foreign nations, claiming that your long-lost relative has died and left you a tidy sum, or that you have won some type of international lottery.  The bastards sending them ask for your banking information, in order to facilitate online transfer of money.  They’ll transfer it, all right — right out of your account and into theirs.  

 

  6.     If someone calls to verify one of your credit card numbers, do not give out your information.  The also holds true for parties soliciting donations over the phone.

 

  7.     Maintain a single credit card with low available credit if you order merchandise online.  And check out the vendors’ ID theft policies before you purchase, to understand your financial responsibilities should an unscrupulous party compromise your account.

 

 8.      Be careful with all bank documentation, including deposit and withdrawal slips.  If you need to write out another slip after making a mistake, tear the original to shreds and place it in your handbag or wallet, not in the bank’s trash bin.  When ordering checks pick them up at the bank instead of having them mailed to the house.

 

  9.     Do not sign checks until you are ready to deposit them, particularly if you are carrying around your checkbook.

 

10.     If the mailbox where you post your bills is not secured/locked, consider taking your mail directly to the Post Office.

  

11.     If you are planning to invite company to your house, keep all of your personal information and banking papers under lock and key.   If you are invited to a party, men, be aware of your wallets at all times.  Ladies, do not leave your handbags on the hostess’ bed along with your coats.  And this goes for family gatherings.  I know of one family that nervously laughed off a teenaged boy as a “klepto” for having stolen money as well as jewelry from the homes of relatives too embarrassed to press charges against him.

 

The same caveats hold true if you work in an office or other environment with co-workers.  Secure your purse at all times.

 

12.     Make sure your computer is protected with the proper firewalls and do not give out the type of personal information on social networking sites that might allow thieves to track you in cyberspace.  Also, guard against storing a lot of personal information on your computer.

 

13.     Request your credit report occasionally to prevent unauthorized activity from occurring.

 

14.     Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately, because the timing can affect how much loss becomes your responsibility.

 

15.     Be vigilant if someone calls to say that a prize will be shipped to your home for a nominal shipping fee.  Do not give them your address or credit card number.

 

Many of these measures are inconvenient.  What you lose in time you may very well save in terms of thousands of dollars as well as peace of mind.  If you suspect tampering with your accounts, file a police report.  Cancel and put out fraud alerts on credit cards that may have been compromised.  You may do the latter by contacting one of the primary companies that manage reports of consumer fraud:

 

Equifax                          1-800-252-6285

Experian                        1-888-397-3742

TransUnion                    1-800-680-7289





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28 Responses to “Stop, Thief!”

  1. Kathleen Felleca says:

    Kudos to you, Small Town Girl, for this article. You can never be too careful.

    Last year, an elderly gent of my acquaintance had his ID stolen and it was linked directly to his pension account, which was deposited automatically into his savings account. The scaries part of this is that the man does not own, nor has he ever owned, a computer — nor he has transacted business of any sort online, through a third party.

    I don’t purchase online. If I need an item and a store does not stock it, they’ll order it for me or understand that I’ll just go to their competitor. Of course you can always be ripped off in a store in terms of your ID, but the threat is more contained that way — a lot more contained. Online transactions invite the hackers and the dirty thieves.

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