Over the years, I've learned how my clients steal the identities of innocent people. Using this inside knowledge, I've put together some information to help you avoid becoming a victim. To begin with, you should always be careful and think twice when asked to give out personal information. For example, when responding to surveys or applying for discounts online, you should always exercise caution. Just because you are offered 25% off on office equipment or electronics doesn't mean you should disclose your address, name, birth date or social security number. Often criminals can use these facts to find out more about you, possibly enough to open a bank account, order telephone service, shop online or subscribe to a new credit card.
Protect Your Personal Information
An ID thief can uncover your information by stealing your wallet or financial documents - from your car, your house, your mailbox - even from your garbage. Don't keep important information in your car. When disposing of financial statements, always use a shredder, which you can buy for as little as $60 at Office Depot or Office Max. It is common for criminals to sift through your garbage in search of information they could use themselves or sell to other criminals. Many people leave outgoing bills in a non-secure mailbox for a postal carrier to pick up. This is a mistake, as those payments contain checking account information, your address, and other personal financial information. Always use a locked mailbox for postal carriers to deliver your mail and pick up outgoing mail. Remember, the harder it is to access your information, the more likely an identity thief will move on to the next mailbox and the next victim.
Review Financial Statements Carefully
Review your month's end bank and credit card statements carefully. If anything seems out of the ordinary, call your bank or credit card company immediately. Reacting quickly can save you time and money. Check your credit report for unusual activity. As part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to one free credit report each year, which you can access at www.annualcreditreport.com. Along with the preventative steps mentioned above, monitoring your credit and financial statements can help you minimize any damage caused by a criminal. As a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law,* I know what ID thieves do and how they get access to your personal information. Identity theft can be a scary problem, and one that is difficult to solve. But by being careful and proactive, you can protect yourself and minimize your risk.