I’ve very briefly discussed identity theft way back when I started this blog. I mentioned about using shredders for destroying documents. I also shared how I had an identity theft scare (turned out to be nothing). In all, I haven’t discussed it much. Then, I received this email a few days ago from a reader who wished to stay anonymous:
Hi, I enjoy your website as we are also trying to pay off credit card debt. I wish you would focus some on identity theft. It just happened to me. Someone stole my social security # and was able to obtain a personal loan for 12,000. Everywhere I went, banks, police, etc., either someone had it happen to them or someone they know. This problem is so much bigger than we can imagine. I am just an average working girl with average credit and alot of debt. I used to joke and say if someone wanted to steal my identity they could have it, with all the bills. Now i’m eating those words. I now have a long process ahead of me to clear my name, not to mention my new paranoia. Anyhow, I hope you can use my story as a example for people to be aware it could happen to them.
Reading that email gave me chills. Even I have joked about someone stealing my identity with all of my debt. I guess no one is really exempt from it anymore and it’s not only adults.
A recent Good Housekeeping article details how a little girl who was only 5 years old had at least 10 people (or someone with 10 different aliases) using her social security number to get employment. It started as early as the year she was born. Her parents were tipped off that something was wrong when they tried to sign their daughter up for a state-run insurance program. The officials for the program wouldn’t let her daughter on the program because she has earned income.
In the case of the little girl, someone happened to produce a social security number that matched hers. There were no documents left out and no wallets lost. It was just by chance. That in itself is a little scary.
I dug a little and have found a few tips to help provide some protection against identity theft (check the articles I reference for even more information):
Shred all documents with personal information – this includes credit card applications that you may receive in the mail (don’t just tear them up). Some theives will raid your trash to find information that can be used for identity theft.
Stop credit card applications from arriving in your mailbox – if you have an unlocked mailbox, you may want to consider calling 888-567-8688 to stop credit card offers from being mailed to you. Theives can raid your mailbox and use these applications to open credit cards in your name [via Good Housekeeping].
Contact your credit card companies and ask that they stop sending “Convenience Checks” – I know a lot of companies send these out. Some as often as once a month. Call them and tell them to stop. Having them around is asking for trouble. If you have a pile of them sitting around, shred them. [via Dateline NBC]
Hang up on telemarketers that seem to be trying to get personal info [via Dateline NBC] – I have a hard-fast rule that I adhere to when it comes to telemarketers. I tell them, “I’m sorry…I do not conduct any business from unsolicited calls.” That includes surveys, organizations requesting donations, etc. If I am not calling them, I don’t do anything. Period.
Be diligent about checking your statements – don’t let your statements sit in a bin to be opened months later. Make sure you are checking them for fraudulent activity [via About.com].
Order your credit report at least once a year – there are credit monitoring services out there (My Fico, Identity Guard, etc) that will let you know within 24 hours of an account opening. I do subscribe to one of those services because of my online presense. You can save that cost by taking advantage of the Federal law that gives you the right to one free credit report each year from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To get that free credit report, go to Annualcreditreport.com. You could stagger your reports from each of the three bureaus to have one every four months like so
- July 07 – Experian
- November 07 – TransUnion
- March 08 – Equifax
- July 08- Repeat cycle with Experian
The sad thing is…a lot of the time you cannot prevent an ID theft from occuring [via Dateline NBC]. You can definitely make it more difficult if you follow the steps above. The key is to be vigilant and watchful so if you find something suspicious going on you can stop it.