Amid the Christmas shopping, there is a darker side to the holiday season. This time of year, identity theft is at an all time high, but many people are unaware how to safeguard themselves against eager thieves.
Protecting yourself against identity theft is something you must be proactive about. It may not seem like a big deal, but imagine having your credit score ruined by a thief who used your social security number to rack up an enormous amount of debt. While you might be able to get some of the money back, the damage to your credit score can often be irreversible.
Here are some simple tips to protect yourself against identify theft.
Shred everything. This sounds dramatic, but it would be very easy for someone to take a discarded credit card offer found in the trash. While you think the envelope will be spending years in a landfill, a thief is enjoying a spending spree under your name. Whenever you receive mail that has any identifying information that could not be found in a phone book, shred it. Any kind of account numbers (credit card, insurance, driver’s licence, etc.) should be protected.
Leave your Social Security Card at home. I used to work at a bank and I was shocked by how many people would pull out their social security cards to be a piece of I.D. Unless you need it to renew a driver’s license, get a birth certificate or get a passport, leave it at home. Most places will not accept a social security card as an acceptable form of identification because it does not have a photo or expiration date. If your wallet gets lost or stolen, you have just provided a identify theft everything he or she needs to know about you. Social security numbers are so private, you will not find them listed on driver’s licenses anymore. Don’t make it easy for thieves, leave the card at home. Keep it in a safe and secure location or in your safety deposit box at the bank.
Avoid phishing. Phishing is a tactic identity thieves used to get information from you. First, the thief will know some basic information such as your name, phone number and maybe where you bank at. They will then call you pretending to be from your bank, requiring you to verify your account information. Could you please state your account number and password for verification purposes? Never give any information to someone who calls you. Your bank will not ask for the information unless you call them. Be wary of “bank representatives” who leave you a voice mail asking you to call them back. Visit your bank in person and do not give any information. Phishing extends beyond phone calls and often can look like plausible emails from a respected financial institution. Check the sender before clicking on any links in the email. When in doubt, call your bank directly.
Get your name off lists. How many stores are keeping tabs on your purchases through your phone number? The more information that is out there about you, the less safe your identity is. Your spending and donating habits are often up for sale. Many organizations will sell your information, including demographic info (income, how much you donated to charity last year, own a home), for campaigns.