9 Quick and Easy Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when another individual uses your personal information, like your Social Security number and drivers license, to commit fraud or other crimes. In general, the FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. With a majority of things now done electronically, consumers should be extra cautious when doing even the most basic of tasks.

In order to help you fend off identity theft, I have compiled this list of 9 easy tips for you to follow. They are very easy to implement and can be completed with ease.

1. Clean Out Your Wallet

Many people do not realize how much information is in their wallet. Typical Americans carry several credit/debit cards, a driver’s license, insurance cards, etc. Some people even carry their Social Security card with them. If your wallet is stolen, the thief will have all of the information that they need. They would have your name, address, Social Security number and major credit card number. They can do a lot of damage with just that info.

It’s recommended that you take as much personal information out of your wallet as possible. You should only be carrying one major credit and debit card, your drivers license, insurance cards and other discount cards. You should NEVER carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Only carrying one credit card will help you keep track of them better. If you are carrying 7 credit cards, you may not notice if one were to go missing. That’s just what the thief wants to happen.

2. Keep an Eye on Your Statements

Keeping a close watch on your bank and credit card statements will allow you to notice problems before them become to large to handle. If you notice an inconsistency, let your bank or credit card company know as soon as possible. The sooner you let them know, the better chance you have of getting the charges removed. Credit cards and debit cards have different limits for liablity in cases like these.

3. Buy Yourself a Paper Shredder

This is one of the most important steps because many identity thieves are dumpster divers. In other words, they rummage through your garbage in search of documents with your personal information on them. Shredding all of these documents stops them dead in their tracks. I recommend getting a middle of the line shredder from Staples. The larger ones can handle more pages and have larger baskets so you do not have to empty them as much. However, if you cannot afford a more expensive one, a basic one from a discount store will do the trick. It’s better to have a cheap one than none at all.

You can also guard against dumpster divers by decreasing your junk mail. Head over to the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, Transunion) and have them take you off the pre-approved credit marketing lists. That will eliminate half of your shredding! You can also go to www.optoutprescreen.com to complete the task faster.

4. Check Your Credit Report Often and For Free

Your credit report contains your Social Security number, present and prior employees, account numbers from creditors, etc. Monitoring this will help you spot inconsistencies quickly. If you find one, make sure you contact the credit bureaus to dispute the charge, late fee, new account, etc. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

I recommend checking your credit report every three months at www.annualcreditreport.com.This is a free service offered by the three credit bureaus. Avoid companies such as freecreditreport.com because you must first sign up for the credit monitoring program (which costs $) before getting the report.

5. Secure Your Security Passwords

Do not place all of your security passwords on a piece of paper and carry it around with you. That’s like giving the keys of your car to a car thief and saying “take it”. Try as hard as you can to memorize all of your passwords but be sure to omit personal information from them. Do not make your bank account password your date of birth, anniversary, pets name, etc. They are what thieves will try first. If you must write down passwords, place them in a fireproof safe in your home and have it bolted to the concrete floor. Yes, your passwords are that important!

6. Don’t Give Out Personal Information to People You Don’t Know

Sounds ridiculous right? Well, many individuals do just that on a daily basis. Whether it’s people giving their Social Security number to a Saudi Prince that contacted them from Gmail or a “creditor” that called them at 9PM, it happens often. Whatever you do, do not give out your personal information to anyone unless you initiated the call and know who you are talking to. If someone calls your home and asks you to verify your account by giving your Social Security number, do not do it. Ask if you can call the company directly and solve the matter. If they agree, do not call the number that they give you. Make sure you look up the number for the company yourself. If they do not agree and insist that you give them your personal information, hang up. The same goes with online emails. If the email says that it is urgent that you sign on and verify information, chances are it is a Phishing email. They (identity thieves) are trying to get you to go to a fake website where you enter in your info so they can copy it.

7. Wipe Your Computer Data Clean

Selling or donating a computer? Make sure you delete all information off of it beforehand. Deleting a file, partitioning a disk, or formatting your hard drive will not erase hard drive data. I repeat, just reformatting your hard drive will not erase personal information from your hard drive. Because of this, many identity thieves have been targeting used and donated computers. Shield yourself from this by doing a complete hard drive erase using a program such as WipeDrive.

8. Skip the Mailbox

If you have something to mail, take it straight to the post office (or one of the blue USPS boxes). Placing mail in your mailbox invites thieves to take your mail (and your personal information). Don’t have time to make it to the post office? Is the post office too far? If so, invest in a mail box that locks. That way, your mail will always be safe and sound inside the box where no one can get it. They can run a little pricey but it does not compare to the amount of money you may lose if your identity is stolen.

Going on vacation? Have the post office hold your mail until you return. This way you do not have a stockpile of mail in your box.

9. Know Who to Call If You Suspect Fraud

If something looks strange on your credit report, chances are you are a victim of credit fraud. Having copies of all of your account numbers and customer service numbers (in a locked safe of course), will make the process of reporting fraud much easier. It also pays to call them ASAP because it will help limit your liability in the matter.

There are also services out their such as LifeLock that will handle much of these problems for you. They have a program called WalletLock that will assist you in contacting your creditors in the event your wallet is stolen. They also have a generous $1,000,000 guarantee . They state that if your identity is stolen while a member of LifeLock, they are willing to spend up to $1,000,000 to help you get your good name back. Click here to get a 10% discount on LifeLock.

As mentioned before, identity theft is no laughing matter. Just ask the estimated 9 million individuals that have had their identity stolen over the past year. Follow these steps and stop identity theft in its tracks. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

15 thoughts on “9 Quick and Easy Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

  1. Jeff@StretchyDollar

    Great list – I think the paper shredder is a big one – we also keep our trash can in ‘safer’ place (back behind our house) until garbage day so it’s not out by the curb and easily available.

  2. Adam Post author

    @Jeff – I agree that shredding is the most important and probably most used form of prevention today. If you are only going to do one thing on this list, buying a shredder is that thing.

    Now that I know where you trash is, do you mind sending me a copy of your drivers license? 😉

  3. Wise Money Matters

    My wife is a huge fan of shredding. It’s good, because I’m probably a little too lax when it comes to that sort of thing.

    And since we are keeping a fairly strict budget, we watch our statements very closely. That’s an early indicator IMO. If you are watching your online statements on a daily or even weekly basis, you can quickly find out if something is fishy.

  4. Adam Post author

    @Wise Money Matters – I have been getting bad about checking my statements lately. Typically I just download everything to Quicken and check it from there. I need to get back on track and make sure things are looking good.

  5. tom

    Those are great points.

    I would add:
    Safe online shopping – shopping on trusted and well know websites

    Do not fall for lottery scams that ask you to send money for fees

    phishing emails asking you to update your bank information, your bank would never send you such an email.

  6. Adam

    @Tom – I kind of addressed the phishing emails in #6 but it does need more stressing. You wouldn’t think that people would fall for something like that but it happens every day.

    I haven’t heard of the lottery one. Can you clarify on that a little?

  7. Jesse

    I think #6 is one of the most important. I am in the IT industry and far too many times I will call a user and just say “I’m with IT” and bam I get their username, password and I am sure anything else I asked for. I used to work at a bank as their IT and it was the same story. I could go into a branch beyond the regular hours and say the magic words and I would be in the bank before or after closing with far too little supervision to do my IT thing.
    The moral of the story, just because someone says “I’m IT” doesnt mean they really are. Be careful especially at work. The greatest hacker of all time was a social engineering guru on top of being a genius with computers and he attributes the social engineering with his break ins more than his computer skills.

  8. Adam Post author

    @Jesse – Great points! I think all of the readers should take it from you that it is important. Like you said, just because someone says they are something, doesn’t mean that they are.

  9. Birdie

    Great article! Very good tips. I was especially interested in the advice to have yourself removed from the pre-approved credit lists. That was new to me and I will be doing that.

    One thing I’ve learned to watch for since I moved, keep renewing your change of addresses even if you’ve changed your info. I get mail from people who lived in my house 5 years ago! Some of it credit card offers and a couple are old friends who are trying to get back in touch! Not only that, if you have adult kids, sometimes when they move, your mail gets changed and you start getting credit card offers in your name to their addresses INCLUDING their old ones! I haven’t figured out a great solution to that other than sending in change of addresses for those too! All it takes is one dishonest turkey at an old address! Rather frustrating to say the least! 🙂

    But your great list will be a definitely help for the part I can do. Thanks again!

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  13. Jenny

    @Jeff, @wisemoney mattters – the thing about shredding is that it can provide a false sense of security. most people use a paper shredder religiously (and thats great) but don’t make the connection about what they’re shredding… mostly what comes in their UNLOCKED unsecured mailbox. you can’t shred what you don’t get… and most people don’t notice (at least for awhile) if/when their mail goes missing.

    I always say, why would a thief rummage through your garbage or a dump when they can simply walk down the street and open your mailbox, casually take what they want and walk away… with your credit card statement, account numbers, maybe even social security number or checks. For more on this, see: http://www.mailboss.net/catch-up-22/ “Catch (Up) 22 – The venerable paper shredder: You can only shred the mail you get!”

    I will argue you must protect sensitive information at its source, and the FIRST line of defense against identity theft is a security locking mailbox. Then, of course, you should shred the mail before discarding it.

  14. Cy Reed

    I always remove and shred the labels from prescriptions containers before disposing of them. They contain a lot of info about you; in addition to the usual info it may also expose a condition or disability that could potentially be exploited in any number of ways. Particularly important for the elderly.

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