With hundreds of millions of people
in this country, stealing an identity doesn't take much
effort. But some people are easier targets than others.
Be sure you fall in the `others' category and make yourself
as private and anonymous as possible. It's unlikely anyone
will set out to make you a victim. It's more likely you
will set yourself up for a `crime of opportunity' by treating
your personal information carelessly.
My banking experience, the training I
received from the FBI, my 5 years at Dun and Bradstreet,
and during my work with a licensed private detective agency,
I became well versed on how scams are created and how
to prevent them. A few simple steps can help you keep
a low profile and stay `out of the crosshairs' of an identity
The most important numbers you possess
are your Social Security Number and your birth date.
Never give out your SSN to anyone...
unless it is on a `need to know' basis. No credible source
will ask you for your SSN, so if someone does ask, be
Check your credit report once a year.
Delete old and erroneous information before it becomes
a problem. Delete or destroy old credit cards. You do
not need more than 3 cards. Each credit card is a back
door to you and your credit. Get credit cards with your
picture on them (if possible) and always sign your cards.
Never let your credit card out of your
sight. If that means paying cash at a restaurant, so be
it. Minimum wage people can be paid by scam artists to
duplicate a credit card charge.
Never leave your car with a valet or
auto mechanic without securing your insurance certificate
and state vehicle registration. The valet or mechanic
can steal this information or copy it. Your address, insurance
carrier and other valuable details are on these documents.
If you drive an expensive car, it implies a good income.
The DMV is as porous as a sieve, and insurance firms can
be penetrated with a phone call.
Your mail delivery at your place of business
or home is a huge door that can be opened by a crook.
This type of theft is particularly prevalent at the beginning
of the month. If your mail is delivered to a non-secure,
unlocked box, a quick grab will get all of your incoming
correspondence. Bank statements, credit card bills, pre-approved
credit applications, checks, pre-approved credit card
checks, ID information and portfolio details are all sitting
in an unlocked, completely unsecured box in front of your
Is your mail box secure? If not, then
set up a secure mail drop at the post office or with a
private mail company such as Mail Boxes, Etc. or Postal
Annex. Your mail is available 24 hours a day, secure and
under lock and key. Your personal address is not known
if you have mail delivered to a non-residential or non-business
Be wary of dropping your outgoing mail
in the same personal home mail box. You may have a lock
on the incoming mail, but the outgoing mail is even less
secure. You just paid the bills. All your checks and payment
coupons are there for the picking. There are thieves who
wait for month-end bills in these boxes. They fence them
or hack into your personal information on a computer to
change check amounts, alter your credit card routing and
even re-direct your mail with a change of address slip.
This is true for both business and personal
The US Postal Service is not secure either.
Mail theft from vans and large mail boxes is a littleknown,
but common problem. Nothing short of using armored vehicles
could stop this predation. Use a mail drop. If your mail
is delivered to your front counter, anyone, including
an employee or a customer, could snatch it up and you
would be none the wiser. Mail pickups from your home or
business are equally susceptible to theft. Take the time
to hand off the mail and pick up from a secure site. Most
neighborhood shopping centers have this sort of business
location. You probably have one within 5 minutes of your
home or place of business.
If this is too much trouble, imagine
what your life would be like if your credit identity was
cloned. There are a few crimes which can cost you so much
yet seem so innocuous - but a $100,000 credit debt you
didn't create is a nightmare. Once you've been cloned
you may not be able to get credit under any circumstances.
And you may only find out that you're a victim when you
do need credit and apply for it. It can take up to a year
to resolve the problem. Once you do clear it up, it may
happen all over again. Criminals often come back to their
victims for a second shot. For them, it is profitable
and poses little risk. A quick $50,000 to $100,000 scam
can be executed in a matter of days.
Be careful online ... Seek out secure
sites and make sure they follow secure protocols when
giving private banking, credit card and personal information.
Just because they are a large firm does not mean their
files can't be infiltrated. Deal with an alternate merchant
if you are not positive of site security. Make sure you
remove all data from old computers. Whether you sell,
donate or give a computer to them, make sure you delete
your files using a `wipe' utility program. Remove the
hard drive and destroy it and other sensitive disks and
Banks and other financial institutions
are under considerable pressure to protect their client
files and records, whether they are electronic or paper.
Make sure your bank treats your files with the same degree
of security you would at your home or business.
All service providers, whether banks,
brokers, accountants or others with access to your files,
have strict security mandates by both federal and state
laws. Make sure your service providers are taking all
appropriate measures to safeguard your information.
Always shred your mail after review -
never throw away unopened junk mail. It may have a pre-approved
credit card or application in the envelope. Always shred
anything of a confidential nature. Home shredders are
inexpensive. For business papers, there are shredding
services that will pick up, document and shred your confidential
'Dumpster divers' love finding your junk
mail unopened and pitched in the trash. Once again, you
have left a door to your business/personal information.
Never assume that anything is so completely innocuous
as to be of no interest to someone. Even magazine subscriptions
show you are interested in something in particular. Tear
off magazine labels before discarding. Tear up anything
that looks like an `affinity group.'
Never answer polls or calls of any nature
that might lead someone to gain information about you.
Always hang up on phone solicitors. Get a caller ID blocker
and a caller ID switch. Take advantage of the `National
Do Not Call Registry.' Outgoing calls should not identify
you. Incoming calls should be screened. Get an unlisted
number and put it under a different name and give out
your number on a `need to know' basis. You will reduce
the chances of being traced. You can screen and eliminate
many suspicious calls that way.
You can't protect yourself fully, but
following these steps will go a long way to making information
hard to steal.