The truth is no matter what precautions you take or no matter how careful you are, there is no 100% way of preventing Identity Theft. The Federal Trade Commission, the U.S Department of Justice, and the U.S Attorney General’s Office have all stated that there is no full proof method to avoid this crime. There is an upside however. By making yourself aware of the threat we are faced with and opening your mind to the way these identity criminals think, you can start minimizing the risk of becoming a target. There are proven steps and measures you could use that will definitely take you out of the spot a light and one step ahead of these crooks.
The first important thing consumers can do to protect their identity is to monitor their credit reports. By law, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the 3 major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once a year. You can submit a request for a copy of your free credit report at freecreditreport.com or you can call 1-877-322-8228. They ask not to call the credit reporting companies directly because they only provide free reports through their web address and phone number. This will give you the opportunity to see if there are any unauthorized accounts opened in your name.
Don’t give out personal information over the phone, on the internet, or through the mail unless you first initiated the contact or are sure you know who you’re dealing with. Identity thieves have posed as representatives of national banks, members of a charity, and even government agencies to get people to give out their account numbers, Social Security number, and other personal information. Before you share any personal information, always be sure your dealing with a legit organization. You can check an organization’s website by typing its URL in the address bar. Do this instead of cutting and pasting it. Or you can call customer service using the number listed on your statement or in the telephone book just to ensure it is in fact them calling.
Protecting your mail is very important. Make sure that every single piece of mail with any kind of personal information, even if it’s just your name on it, is cross-shredded before you throw it away. Simply tearing it up into pieces is not going to be good enough. This only provides the thief with a puzzle that they can easily piece together. Drop off your outgoing mail in a post office collection box or at your local post office, instead of leaving it in an unsecured mailbox, especially curbside mailboxes. Always quickly remove any mail from your mailbox. If you’re going to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, contact your local Post Office and ask for a temporary hold, or a vacation hold. They will hold your mail there until you pick it up or when you are finally home to receive it.
Do not carry your Social Security card, credit/debit cards, or passports if you don’t plan to utilize them. Carry only credit and debit cards that you need for the day. Same goes for any other personal identification. If you must have it on you, (i.e. Driver’s License/I.D) ensure that it is secure. If you are at work, be sure to keep your wallet/purse in a safe place. Places of employment are known for having wallets or purses stolen. Do the same with any copies of administrative forms that might have your personal information on it.
As a U.S citizen you have the right to ask about personal information security protocol or procedures at your place of work, other businesses, institutions that collect personal data, doctor’s offices, schools, you name it. Find out about their disposal procedures for personal records and ask if your information will be shared with anyone else other than them. If your information is going to be shared, you should definitely ask what safety precautions they will take to keep your information confidential. If you have a problem with the place of business not being able to disclose that information or simply does not have an answer. It would be best to contact the F.T.C immediately to make them aware of the situation at that particular institute.
There are between 10-15 million people affected by Identity Theft Each Year. 10% of those victims are children. That means every 3 seconds a new person has their identity stolen. There are other ways to ensure the safety of you and your family’s identity. You just have to become aware of the threats around you and what you can do to avoid them. One of the most important steps a person can take in the fight against Identity Theft is to practice awareness for you and family.