Important Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

Imagine this scenario. Your wife is pregnant with your second child. You just got that promotion at work. Together you decide that it is time to get a bigger house to accommodate both. After finding the dream house, you try for a loan. Even though you have always paid every bill on time, your credit score is in the gutter. Then it hits you; someone has stolen your identity.

Concern about identity theft seems like a far off concern until you are in the very midst of it. Instead of waiting to figure out to deal with it after it has happened, take some precautions to protect your identity. The first thing you have to do is get in the head of the criminal by knowing exactly what they are looking for. Identity theft criminals want to get their hands on your:

• Social Security number
• Credit card numbers
• Bank account numbers
• Driver’s license number
• Health insurance information
• Mailing address
• Phone number
• Age

The unfortunate part is that it is impossible to keep all this information private in today’s world. When you go to the doctor, you had the receptionist your driver’s license and insurance card. The waitress always walks away with your credit card after dinner out. While you cannot eliminate the opportunities for identity theft, you can make it much harder for the scam artist.

Start by putting a password on your credit card accounts. Make sure it is nothing that can easily be discovered with a little research. This means you should not use anyone’s birthday, anniversary, or name. The absolute worst password or secret question answer is your mother’s maiden name. While it may seem so distant, it is plainly written on your credit report which anyone can see. Scam artists often obtain a copy of their victim’s credit report simply by saying that they are considering renting property to you. Scary, but true.

Don’t assume that someone needs to know everything that they are asking for. Creditors, government agencies, employers, educational institutions, and merchants all ask for a plethora of information. However, many times it is simply for their personal information or statistic. You are allowed to ask what the purpose is before handing it over, and you should.

Be careful how you handle your numbers. If you use a check to pay off your credit cards, do not write the number on the check or envelope. Tear up or shred junk mail for pre-approved credit card applications. Scam artists can intercept either of these documents and begin their destructive pattern. Also, never give out any number over the phone unless you made the call and feel confident that it is trustworthy.

Exercise your right to a free credit report. Under federal law, everyone is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three main credit bureaus. These are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Many credit card companies offer automatic credit monitoring services, but these are unnecessary. These services are intended for those who have had their identity stole in the past 2 years; if you do not fall into this category, they are just trying to make money off of your vulnerability.

Take the time to look at your statement every month. Most scam artists will not steal your identity and instantly spend thousands. They will likely test the waters with a few small purchases. If they keep that up and you don’t notice, over the course of time it will add up to thousands.

In addition to these tips on guarding your identity, here are a few more to keep in mind.

• Do not write down your PIN numbers.
• Change your passwords regularly
• Remove your mail from the box promptly
• Sign card with “See Photo ID”

Basically, just be on guard. Don’t haphazardly hand over information, don’t assume your monthly statements are accurate, and most importantly, don’t think it couldn’t happen to you. Identity theft can happen to anyone and occurs in large and small scale scenarios. Either way, you don’t want to foot the bill for a criminal’s shopping spree.