My expertise is in the Risk Management and claims portions of the insurance business. So, I look at nearly every issue as a risk management challenge. And when I consider the risks of identity theft, I must urge you to take some basic precautions.
Identity theft, forgery and fraud are at the highest levels ever. Your finances are at risk like never before. Here are some simple tips that can offer basic protection. All are easy and some cost nothing, yet offer great protection.
1. Order new checks for your checking account and have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know your first name. The thief will also not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks. Shred the old checks you’re not going to use, or the checks you still have from old bank accounts that you’ve closed…or burn them.
2. If you have a PO Box, use that on your checks instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, you might use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks. Do not have any phone number printed on your checks. You can write it on the check if necessary. If a clerk asks you for your phone number, don’t speak it…write it on the check yourself.
3. Do not sign the back of your credit and debit cards. Instead, write “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”
4. When you are writing checks to make payment on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the account number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check-processing channels will not have access to it.
5. When you pay your bills, don’t place them in your mailbox with the little red flag up. That’s advertising to the world that you’re sending out mail. It takes less than two seconds for a thief to roll up, open your mailbox and remove your mail. Then, he has your checks and your account numbers. When mailing your payments, mail them at the post office.
6. If you receive an email that looks completely legit from anyone that asks you to confirm or change any of your personal financial information or a password, don’t do it online. Call the Customer Service number on their monthly invoices, and verify if they actually requested the new information. Then, if they did, give them what they need. But most of these emails are scam attempts to get your identity info.
7. Place the contents of your wallet on a copy machine. Copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all
of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Also carry a photocopy of your passport when traveling either here or abroad. We have all heard horror stories about fraud that is committed on people by stealing a name, address, Social Security number, or credit cards. Don’t be that person.
8. Most hotels and motels use card keys for entry to rooms. When you check out of a hotel that uses card keys, do not turn the “keys” in. Take them with you and destroy them. Those little cards hold all of the information you gave the hotel, including address and credit card numbers and expiration dates. Someone with a card reader, or employee of the hotel, can access all that information with no problem whatsoever. If the hotel desk clerk asks for the card keys at time of checkout, only give them back if the clerk will destroy them in front of you.
9. When you’re paying a restaurant check with your credit card, NEVER sign the credit card slip and just leave it on the table. Make sure you hand the credit card slip directly to the waiter or the manager.
10. Buy a document shredder and shred EVERYTHING that you don’t keep in your financial files at home. Also remember that all of those credit card offers you get in the mail have an application with some of your information already printed on the app. Shred them, too.
11. Buy Identity Theft Protection. Learn more at: Identity Theft Info
Here is some critical information to limit the damage in case your wallet is stolen:
1. Cancel your credit cards immediately. The key is having the toll free numbers
and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those credit card company phone numbers where you can find them. Might not be a bad idea to put your credit card company’s Customer Service phone number in your cell phone Address Book. Many credit card companies have a deductible, like $50, on thefts. So, you’d be responsible for the first $50 and they accept the risk for fraudulent purchases above that. But if you cancel quickly enough, the company can cancel the card before purchases start to appear.
2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a
first step toward any investigation and verification of any claim.
3. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases. It seems to stop thieves dead in their tracks.
Here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet and contents being stolen:
Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
4. Call your homeowner’s insurance company. You may have some coverage available for credit card theft if you purchased an endorsement.
Doing these simple actions will give you good basic protection against identity theft.
© Copyright 2010, Russell D. Longcore. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.