Protect Your Information From Identity Theft

We’ve all heard warnings throughout the past few years about protecting yourself from identity theft.  There are plenty of faceless monsters lurking in cyberspace who are poised to leap when you make one mistake … they want to steal your social security number and drivers license information for nefarious purposes.  Before you know it, you may start receiving credit card bills for big screen TVs or where people pulled cash from credit cards.  OR you may not even know your information is being used at all until you see your credit score dive.

I once was the communications manager for a very prestigious organization of state elected officials… it was a job that required extensive travel for conferences.  I went to San Diego, California and recall stepping onto an elevator wearing my conference name-tag.  A colleague asked, “What room are you in?” and without thinking I answered.  Four days later upon check-out, my hotel bill was a staggering $2000 more than it was supposed to be.  Someone saw my name, heard my room number, and stole stole stole using that information.

That one-second mistake cost thousands of dollars.  I was fortunate that the hotel “discharged” the fee, but it’s not always that simple when someone assumes your identity.   Who would do that?  The answer is ANYONE. It stinks to live knowing that you can’t trust people.   It’s a tragedy of the times we live in…

Now I know people are mostly good, but because there is not way to prove that person with access to your information isn’t really a wolf in sheep’s clothing… especially when there is fear that if you point fingers you’ll get sued… *cough* … I’m going to give you some tips on what you can do to protect yourself.  Do read carefully my friends because this isn’t coming out of the blue… there is a reason I’m writing this today.

  1. Tear up or shred any pre-approved credit card offers you have received and are not interested in. (We have a burn barrel out back and BURN this unwanted junk mail… get a shredder if you must!)
  2. Review your monthly accounts thoroughly and report any unsual or suspicious transactions to your banker or creditor.
  3. Review your Credit Report and Credit Score every three months.  Go to Annual Credit Report or call toll free (877) 322-8228 for a free credit report.  They won’t give you your credit score, but you will get a long print out emailed with all the dings, pings, and good credit.
  4. Do not put any mail into your own mail box. Take all financial/personal information directly to the Post Office and send it Certified Mail with return receipt.
  5. Always take your receipt from the ATM machine. Do not just throw them away, shred them.
  6. Cancel Mail delivery when on vacation or when you’ll be away from home for a long period of time.
  7. Make copies of credit/bank card numbers and the contact numbers of the issuers, and store this information in a secure location. Access this info if your cards are every stolen to cancel all accounts.
  8. On the backs of your bank/credit cards, write “photo ID required” in place of the signature.

Finally, you might want to sign up for an identity theft plan. Costs range from $7 p/month to $20 p/month and they could be WELL WORTH the expense.  If your identity is stolen, you have help in cleaning the mess up … and believe me it’s not an easy task to restore your good name, good credit, and bank accounts.  Check with your own insurance company to see if they offer an identity theft protection plan.  Google it… do some research.  It’s like flood insurance – you don’t think you need it, but if something bad happens you’ll kick yourself for not having it.

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