The New Era of Identity Theft Protection

The new social media craze has opened up a new debate on a very old internet problem. Online Identity Privacy. The truth is that identity thieves are very resourceful without even having to use the internet. A simple mailbox can often be their portal to invade and conquer your privacy. But these days, social media sites like Facebook make it all too easy for strangers to find your personal information and use it for their own advantage. Facebook's recent privacy problems have led many to question the privacy policies on all social media sites. There is no doubt that social media is the best way to communicate, to find clients, to market your company, etc. But all of this comes at a high cost if you are not careful (read: obsessed) with your own identity protection.
 

What can you do to prevent ID theft?

  1. Destroy private records and statements. Buy a shredder and shred every document that you don't need that may have personal information- bank statements, credit card offers, etc. Don't ever throw any papers away that might have personal information.
  2. Secure your mail. Make sure that your mailbox is secure. If you live in an apartment building this can be hard to do. The best thing to do is to open a P.O. Box so criminals don't have a chance to get their hands on your mail.
  3. Protect your Social Security number. It's not a good idea to carry your SS card with you, or for that matter, any other card that has your SS number on it. Always remember to protect your SS number at all cost as it is the primary target for identity thieves! Don't be afraid to get defensive with salespeople and anyone else who may ask you for it. And if it is required, ask about their privacy policy first! Make sure they won't share your information with anyone else!
  4. Don't put any personal information on Facebook or any other social media source. The most basic thief can collect private information just from your full name and your birth date which Facebook loves to share with all of your "friends"! Your birthdate, along with your name, your city, and your phone number that you have just posted for your facebook friends are going to come back to haunt you if you put them on any social media site. BE CAREFUL what you post!
  5. Prevent high-tech criminal access. Install antivirus software on your computer and keep it updated. Be very careful with purchases that you make online. And never make online purchases if you are on a public access WI-FI.
  6. Open temporary bank accounts. This is for anyone who uses the internet to make purchases on a regular basis. If you use PayPal and/or eBay, it is never a good idea to have your PayPal account connect to your main bank account. If someone were to obtain your credit card information, they could potentially clear out all of your money. If you keep one account solely for PayPal or other online purchases, you will reduce the risk of losing all of your money.
  7. Pay in cash. And stop using checks! It may be difficult, but try to pay for the majority of your purchases with cash. If you have to use your credit cards, keep a regular eye on the account activity. As soon as you see something suspicious, call the bank and clarify it is not a mistake on their part or perhaps a forgotten charge on your part.
  8. Be Paranoid! If anyone calls you asking for personal information, assume it is a trick to get your personal information. Never, never give out personal information on the phone! In this day and age, trust no one! If you think the call may be legitimate, contact the company yourself first and confirm before you do anything else.
  9. Take your name of marketer's lists. Put your name on the national Do-Not-Call registry to reduce telemarketers. Also, it's a good idea to go to OptOutPrescreen.com. This will allow you to tell the credit bureaus to stop selling your information to credit card services and will reduce the number of pre-approved credit card offers you receive in the mail.
  10. Monitor your credit report. At least once a year, obtain and thoroughly review your credit report. You can use Annual Credit Report.com. If you see something suspicious, report it to your credit card company and creditors immediately. You may want to consider subscribing to some credit protection services. Keep reading to see what action to take if someone has stolen your identity or used your information fraudulently.
  11. Educate yourself. If you have the time, take a course in any one of the many certified criminal justice programs in your area. Not only will you learn the ins and outs of the legal system, but you could find a new career as well!
  12. Protect your loved ones. Aging parents typically take a toll on their children in many ways. In addition to providing care and support, it's important to stay vigilant on your parents financial behalf as they grow older. It's possible that even the hippest parents don't understand the dangers of online phishing scams and identity thieves who love to pounce on the elderly. Check out various Baby Boomer resources to get an idea of how you can prevent your parents' nest egg from falling into the wrong hands: Sharp Seniors.com is a website with useful information of how to protect your parents as they grow older.
 

Warning signs of identity theft:

  • Credit card applications or loan applications denied for no apparent reason
  • Monthly credit card statements, utility bills, etc. stop arriving
  • Credit cards arrive that you did not apply for
  • Start receiving bills or calls from a collection agency
  • Missing mail or monthly bills
 

What to do if your ID is stolen?

Whether you spot a fraudulent charge on your credit report or you get that dreaded phone call from the bank inquiring about suspicious activity on your account, you will have to take immediate action. Depending on how long the thieves have had your personal information, this could be a long and laborious process in order to sort it out. Remember to be patient and diligent!

 
  1. Call the three major credit reporting agencies to put a fraud alert on your credit report immediately. The three agencies you should call are Equifax, Experian,TransUnion. Placing a fraud alert is very important because it requires companies to confirm and verify identity before issuing any type of credit or approving new accounts, etc.
  2. Call your bank and close the accounts that were affected immediately. Every bank will most likely have their own security protocol to follow in case of fraud. Also, thieves might open up accounts with retail stores like clothing stores, online music stores, travel agencies, supermarkets, etc. Every company and/or bank will probably ask you to fill out a Fraud Affidavit Form and/or a Transaction Dispute Form.
  3. Contact your local police and make a report. Most police departments have a special office for ID theft. Most likely, you will be assigned a detective who will interview you about the details of your case. When you finish the interview, make sure you leave with the detective's name and your case number as well as any documents that you might need. The case number will be important because the Fraud Affidavit Form will ask for it.
  4. Record Keeping! Start a file and make sure you keep detailed records. In fact, make two files: one file for all original documents and one file for copies of the originals. You are going to have to give copies of all documents to credit card companies, banks, the police department, etc. When they request this paperwork, it is best to send it certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document that the company received your all the necessary paperwork. All correspondence should be filed and kept for years after the incident.*
  5. Once you manage to place a fraud alert on your credit report and close your accounts, you must continuously check to make sure the activity hasn't continued. Obviously, you will have to open new accounts for yourself. Use all new passwords and pin numbers.
  6. If you have lost your driver's license, you must contact the DMV office as soon as possible in order to get a new driver's license and void the stolen one.

* Remember that this situation could go on for years. It's sad, but true. Therefore, keep all of your records forever. Also, if the thieves get a hold of your checkbook and write bad checks, a warrant will be placed for their arrest. However, it will be your name on the warrant. Your checks + your name = your warrant! Therefore, it is imperative that you keep a copy of all of your records when you travel, in your car, etc. If, for whatever reason, you get pulled over by the police and they see that you have a warrant out for your arrest, you must have that file to show that you have been a victim of identity theft! - Don't leave home without your proof!

 

"But he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him/And makes me poor indeed."
- Shakespeare, Othello, act iii. Sc. 3.

 

Credit Reporting Agencies and Useful Contacts

  • Equifax: To report fraud: 1-800-525-6285 and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian: To report fraud: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion: To report fraud: 1-800-680-7289 and write: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634
  • Social Security Online: Report Social Security Theft
  • IRS.gov: Identity Theft and Your Tax Records
  • Postal Inspection Service: Identity Theft via the U.S. Mail
 

Id Theft Resources

 

Id Theft Horror Stories