Each year more people are becoming victims of identity theft. When this happens, it could take years for the person to regain their rightful identity and their good credit standing. And the bad news is that identity thieves are getting much more sophisticated about identity theft and will stop at almost nothing to steal your personal and financial information. That’s why it is important to do all that you can to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Preventing Your Identity from Being Stolen
There are a variety of ways that you can prevent your identity from being stolen and your credit from being ruined.
First, shred any and all documents that have any of your personal information on them. This includes credit card receipts, bank statements, and even less obvious items such as envelopes and junk mail containing your name and address. The best way to go about this is to get a low cost home office shredder with a cross-cut option. Otherwise, thieves will still have the ability to go through your trash and piece together documents that have simply been torn.
You should also never leave anything with your personal information on it unattended, such as in your vehicle. If you have receipts or other documents, take them with you. It does not take long for an identity thief to lift the information from an unattended car or other publicly exposed area.
Also, you should not use your cell phone or other portable telephone when giving your personal information to a business. It has become easier for identity thieves to monitor cell phones and other types of portable phones.
In addition, be extremely careful when giving your personal information or credit card information over the internet. And never give this information if you receive an email asking you for it – no matter how official it looks. Identity thieves have become very good at crafting emails with bank and other business logos that look very official, but they are actually a form of spam called phishing. These fake emails my look real, but more often than not they are really attempts to try and get your secure information for the purpose of stealing it. If you do need to give information to your bank or other business, go into a branch, or call/fax them directly so that you are sure you are giving your information to the actual establishment.
What to Do When Using Your Credit Card
With the holiday season approaching, it is even more important to be careful when using your credit card. Information can easily be obtained by professional identity thieves in ways you may not even realize.
When shopping or dining out, be aware of your surroundings when you are using your credit card, and make sure that nobody else copies your credit card number when you give it to a waiter or salesperson (pay in cash to be really secure). In addition, be particularly aware if someone swipes your credit card twice during a transaction. One of these card swipes could be through a device called a skimmer. Skimmers look like small knife sharpeners and once your information is swiped through a skimmer, it is accessible for use by others.
You should always double check the amount you are being charged before signing your credit card receipt (and at restaurants do not leave the tip line blank, put a dash or “n/a” if leaving no tip). And, always take your purchase receipts with you to check against your monthly credit card statement. If the numbers don’t match up, contact your card company immediately.
In addition to monitoring your credit card statement (including balance email alerts), it’s a good idea to frequently monitor your credit report. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report each year from all three of the major credit bureaus. If there is information on your credit report that is incorrect, write to the credit bureau (with evidence to back your claim) requesting that this misinformation be removed.
What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
Even the most careful people can still have their identity stolen. If this happens, contact your local authorities immediately. You should also contact your bank, credit card companies, insurance companies, the Social Security Administration, and any other entities with which you have personal information. This could mean the difference between halting further damage to your credit or having to spend years regaining and repairing it.