Identity Theft Uncovered

Reader’s Digest Magazine (August 12, 2010 edition) published an article which outlined the results of interviews by several former identity thieves. The interviews asked the simple question of how the identity thieves got the information they needed to make the scam. Unfortunately for most, it was surprisingly very easy.  This is such a prevalent issue right now that we thought we would share these tips with our readers to prevent identity theft from happening to them.

1. Be careful about holding your credit or debit card in the checkout line at a store. Someone can easily use their camera phone to take a snapshot while seeming to be checking a text or voicemail. Keep your cards in your wallet until you can swipe or hand off to the cashier.

2. Watch your trash! Identity thieves drive through neighborhoods before trash day and pick up bags that contain preapproved credit card applications, bank slips, bill stubs, etc. Shred all of these items before throwing them away.

3. Check your bank and credit card activity at least once a week. A month is a long time between statements and an identity thief can wreak havoc during that time period, making it much more difficult to undo the damage.

4. Pay attention at the ATM. Some identity thieves use devices called a skimmer that can collect your information and pin for their use later. If you see something that looks like it does not belong, don’t use the machine.

5. If you have the option between credit and debit, use credit. Hackers can get into a store’s database and with your debit information, have direct access to your account. Credit puts an additional barrier between the thief and your account.

6. Mail off bills at a post office box rather than putting up the flag on your home box and announcing that their might be something of interest inside. Thieves drive through neighborhoods and pick up checks for reproduction and other useful information from mailboxes.

7. Call 888-5-OPTOUT to stop receiving credit card offers, which lowers your risk of having one get into the hands of someone else.

8. If your credit card company offers the option of putting a picture on your card, do it! This makes it very unlikely that someone else will try to use the card.

Other interesting tactics:

(we don’t have solutions for these particular tactics, but it is helpful to know other ways people can gain your information so you can be on the look-out)

Many identity thieves reported that they will call up your utility provider or other place of business in which you pay on a regular basis and pretend to be you, reporting that you cannot remember which credit card you used to pay and could they read back the number. Keeping bill stubs out of their hands could help prevent this. Another tactic is to watch your mailbox for a new credit card to come in the mail, then write down the number for use after you activate the card. If you are expecting a card, get it out of your box as soon as possible.

Remember, be smart about your personal information and never give it to someone without being sure it is necessary and they are who they say they are. Check your credit frequently to catch theft in the early stages.

Kudos to Reader’s Digest for an excellent and informative article on Identity Theft (“13 Things an Identity Thief Won’t Tell You” by Michelle Crouch)

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