For the first time in years, my wife did not participate in the after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sales. Instead, she went on a family paintball outing. That didn’t stop her from spending several thousand dollars that day, or from opening accounts at Kohls, Target, JC Penny’s, or from applying for a new credit card. Well, at least it didn’t stop someone using her name from doing those things.
We quickly learned the havoc that can be wreaked from identity theft when someone using evidently well-crafted fake identification containing my wife’s actual name, date of birth, social security number, and home address charged thousands of dollars at various department stores on Black Friday. It is a problem we are still dealing with, and which we found out probably has its origin in some stolen medical records.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, as many as 9 million Americans have their identity stolen every year. You may not find out that someone has stolen your identity until you receive a bill or a call from a collector, or worse, you are hauled off to jail because of unpaid tickets issued to someone using your identity. Even long after repairing the immediate harm, the victim may still be targeted by police or creditors who question whether they are the victim or the perpetrator.
In order to protect your identity against theft, you should be aware how thieves steal personal information.
Thieves who can obtain your personal information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information, can virtually print their own money on your credit. According to the Federal Trade Commission, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
Follow these suggestions to avoid having your identity stolen:
Secure your financial data under lock and key.
- Don’t carry your Social Security Card in your purse or wallet.
- Shred, burn, or destroy old financial or personal documents when no longer needed.
- Use secure computing methods to deter identity theft.
- Use secure passwords and change them often.
- I suggest using a free program such as KeePass to store all of your passwords on a thumb drive so that you can securely keep your passwords, but still have the ability to remember them as you change them frequently.