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Prevent Identity Theft
Prevent Identity Theft
Identity Theft Prevention
Think Like an Identity Thief
An identity thief needs your personal information to steal your identity. Where do you keep your personal information and who has access to it?
Identity thieves use low and high tech means to steal from you. They may dumpster dive or get into your hard drive through an online scam. They go where you have your personal information.
So even if you follow best practices for your cyber security and lockdown all of your online information, if you leave your front door unlocked or toss un-shredded documents containing your personal information in the trash, your personal information may be at risk.
Identity theft is often a silent crime. Experienced identity thieves may use your information for months—even years— while you remain unaware. You may not learn that you are a victim of identity theft until you are denied credit because of negative entries on your credit report. How can that happen?
- You know when your wallet is stolen at a store or from your workplace, but you might not know about someone who works in your home who steals your information, or if mail is taken from your mailbox, or if a service person takes your information when you hand over your credit card.
- You also will not know if an employee with access to your personal information is bribed to provide your personal information to criminals, or if it is gained in a security breach, or through an unsecure Wi-Fi connection, or from a hidden skimmer at an ATM machine or gas pump.
- It is also quite possible that you unwittingly gave the identity thief your personal information when you answered a phishing phone call or email, or when you posted it on one of your social media accounts.
Reduce Your Risk
At one extreme, reformed identity thief Frank Abagnale of “Catch Me If You Can” fame and current AARP Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, advises:
- charge everything to a credit card [you are most protected against liability for fraudulent charges];
- shred papers with a device that makes micro cuts [turns your documents into confetti];
- consider credit monitoring [know when someone checks your credit and more]; and
- never pay again with a personal check [you expose your account and routing number and hence, your money, to anyone who handles the check]
Fraud Detection or Identity Monitoring Plans
A fraud-detection or identity-monitoring plan goes beyond credit monitoring and fraud-alert services by checking other “public” records, such as criminal records, official filings regarding real estate transactions, employment records associated with your Social Security number, as well as some other places your information may appear, which could include chat rooms and national databases containing credit card applications.
Many of the steps included in fraud-detection plans can be taken by consumers without charge.
Further, fraud-detection services do not prevent ID theft and may not catch certain activity, such as medical ID theft and “fragmented” credit files (which are created when a thief combines your Social Security number with a different name and address to invent a new identity).
Before you sign up for fraud-detection services, the Federal Trade Commission recommends you ask these questions to any provider you are considering:
- What kinds of information do you check, and how often? For example, does the service check databases that show payday loan applications to see if someone is misusing my information to get a loan?
- What personal information do you need from me and how will you use my information?
- Are other services included with the identity-monitoring service? Do they cost extra?