Identity theft can wreak havoc on your credit and your life. Because of this I get a lot of questions asking how to prevent identity theft. The first thing to understand is that there is no sure fire way to absolutely protect yourself from identity theft. No matter what you do there will always be some amount of risk that you could become a victim. There are, however, some ways that you can drastically reduce your risk. The important thing to remember is that ID theft is all about access to your information. The more access thieves have to your information the easier it’s going to be for them to steal your identity. Here are a few ways you can keep your information secure:
1. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet. So many of my clients have had their identity stolen because they keep their social security card in their wallet and their wallet is lost or stolen. You probably have to keep your driver’s license in your wallet but there is almost no reason to carry your social security card so keep it locked up at home.
2. Don’t keep your wallet in your car when it’s parked. Again, many of my clients have their cars stolen with their wallet inside and as soon as that happens the thieves have your address (from your driver’s license) and all of your credit cards. You can easily prevent this by taking your wallet with you even if your car is parked in your driveway!
3. Keep your documents locked in a safe and shred anything you don’t need. Many people think if something doesn’t have your social security number on it that its harmless to throw always. That’s not true! Identity thieves take little bits of information from anywhere to try and open accounts and rack up debt in your name. While shredding all those credit card offers can be a pain it does a lot to keep your information secure.
4. Shred your receipts. The receipts you get from making simple purchases can contain a ton of sensitive information including your name and a portion of your credit card number. Throwing receipts away in a public trashcan gives just about anyone access to your information. Hang on to your receipts and shred them when you get home.
5. Don’t give out your banking information over the phone. I get so many calls from clients saying they got a phone call from someone asking for their credit card or bank account number. If you called the person and you trust whoever is on the other end of the phone you might be able to get away with making a payment over the phone (though I don’t recommend it). However, if they’re calling you then there is a decent chance that it’s a scam. If this happens hang up and make a payment online or by mail.
Thieves are always coming up with new ways to get their hands on your information so they can steal your identity so this is by no means an exhaustive list of precautions but hopefully taking these steps can help prevent you from becoming an identity theft victim.
-Wayne Sinnett, Esq.