Do you have a friend that often leaves her purse unattended? Do you share your personal information with people not required to have it? How many of you have hit the dance floor when your favorite song comes on, only to leave your purse or wallet unattended? You’re fortunate to have returned to the table to find your items untouched.
My sister, Evelyn, was not as fortunate. Last month, she learned she was a victim of identity theft. Have you ever attempted to console a frantic teary-eyed family member or friend because he/she was a victim of identity theft? Evelyn was shocked, confused, and angry to learn that someone had stolen her purse. She was even more upset when she learned her personal information was used to open an account at a local retailer. Back then she was unfamiliar with ways to prevent identity theft, but she is informed now.
Fortunately for my sister, only 1 account was opened in her name. And, she quickly learned a family friend was to blame for this callous act before more damage occurred. Evelyn’s feelings were hurt, and she continues to feel betrayed. Fortunately, the charges were waived and the account was closed, but trust has not returned. No matter how vigilant you think you are, it’s possible to still become a victim of identity theft. But don’t throw your hands up, Evelyn didn’t give up. She became extra cautious in her effort to reduce her future odds. Evelyn continues to have many friends of friends, people I refer to as “strangers’, in her home. However, she is more selective when she needs someone to watch her purse and she certainly no longer leaves her purse unattended.
My sister’s ordeal motivated me to select this topic and put together a list of ways to prevent identity theft–a list my sister is using to reduce her future odds.
One: Protect Your Social Security Number (SSN)
The first preventative measure involves protecting your SSN. Don’t carry your social security card with you, and only give it out when necessary. How many of you write your SSN on your checks? This move could open you up to having your data compromised. You may want to stop this habit today…don’t write you SSN on your checks or other correspondence – unless it is required. In addition, if you are asked for your SSN, first ask why it is needed, and only give it out when necessary. Don’t share your personal information with questionable people, people you do not know or people not required to have your SSN.
Two: Order And Review Your Credit Report For Suspicious Activity
The second way you can prevent identity theft is to order and review your free credit report at least annually through annualcreditreport.com. Check for inaccurate information, suspicious activity, or unexplained changes in credit score. Reviewing your credit report at least once a year will not affect your credit score as long as you order directly from one of the three major credit reporting bureaus or through annualcreditreport.com. Evelyn now requests her credit report once every 4 months (from a different major credit report bureau every 4 months) for inaccurate information. If you find suspicious activity on your credit report, immediately contact each of the three credit reporting agencies to request a freeze of your credit reports.
Three: Protect Your Cell Phones, Laptops and Other Mobile Devices
Another way you can prevent identity theft is to use the security features on all your devices. Evelyn has always protected her mobile devices with passwords, and even went as far as to select challenging passwords to decode. However, she recently learned the importance of turning off her Bluetooth when she is not using it because others may be able to see her information when she is using public Wi-Fi. So, I am sharing this information with you today. It’s important to password protect your cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices–especially if you have sensitive information such as your banking information saved on the device. And, don’t forget to turn off the Bluetooth when you are done with it.
Unfortunately anyone can become a victim of identity theft. Fortunately, the sooner you realize there is a problem, the sooner you can take steps to reduce the risk. This partial list will certainly assist you in becoming more vigilant. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this series.
You can also check out Apprisen’s Consumer Awareness Tips that’ll help you become a smart consumer to help prevent identity theft and fraud.
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? Has the fear of identity theft influenced you in any way? Let me know in the comments below.