Don’t feel bad. Identity theft happens to the best of us. We have to remember, it is not our faults. Just do the best you can with what you’ve got. I have made mistakes and gotten lazy because the protocol can get overwhelming. I promise most of it becomes second nature.
BE AWARE! Get educated for free! Awareness is the best form of protection. When people know what to look out for they have a better chance of not becoming a victim. And consider being an identity theft advocate for the children and seniors in your life. They are the most vulnerable and need the most assistance to keep their PII (Personal Identifiable Information) safe. Here are some trusted links to learn all you need to know about identity theft:
FTC (Federal Trade Commission) Identity Theft, “The U.S. government’s central website for information about identity theft,”or call to have information sent to you at: 1-877-IDTHEFT
Identity Theft Resource Center or call for FREE assistance (888) 400-5530
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse or write to3108 Fifth Avenue, Suite A, San Diego, CA 92103
SF Identity Theft Council: or call the toll free hotline at: (888) 771-0767
OFFLINE (MATERIAL WORLD)
NEVER give out you or your child’s Social Security Number (SSN) to anyone at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office without asking:
- Why they need it?
- How it will be used?
- How they will protect it?
- What happens if you don’t share the number?
Only your employer and financial institutions need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. A business may ask for your SSN so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service. They should not be using it to identify you though so many companies still use this practice. Know your rights when it comes to legally protecting your Social Security number at the Social Security Agency or call the FTC at: 1-877-IDTHEFT.
Freeze your credit permanently. This doesn’t change anything, you still accrue credit and you still can have as many credit cards as you want, but it stops big purchases like a home or car. When you need it checked for these big purchases you can thaw it out and then freeze it up again for a small fee (by law, freezing is free). This is one of the best and cheapest ways to protect your PII. Click here to learn how.
Get your three FREE annual credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at: www.AnnualCreditReport.com. This is good to check just to make sure nothing is happening. Or call them at:
This central site allows you to request a FREE credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You may request your free credit report online, by phone or through the mail.
Monitor your medical insurance. Call up your provider when you think of it and ask what charges are on your account to verify everything is you. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products. Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before throwing them out.
Monitor your banking accounts. Whenever you think about it (weekly, daily). Just do it! It only takes a minute online. I recommend getting online if you can. If you can’t get online then call them up periodically or make sure to check your monthly statements ASAP.
Carry minimal ID cards in your wallet. Take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need (keep the rest locked up somewhere safe). NEVER carry your SSN card. Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Only carry your medical cards when you are going to need it at the doctor’s office.
Debit/ATM cards at secure ATM machines ONLY and use it only to withdraw some cash. Debit cards are a direct line to your bank account. They are not protected like credit cards. They should not be used like credit cards. Even if they have a credit card logo on them.
Shred all PII documents. For example, I’ll rip my address off a magazine and then I recycle the magazine and shred my address. When recycling old PII documents such as old tax papers I’ll use a professional shredding business instead of spending hours in front of my shredder. Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.
Get your mail every day. Or get a PO Box. Never let mail sit in your mailbox especially when you are traveling. Best to have a trusted friend or family member get your mail. Or request a vacation hold through the official USPS website. Or call them at (800) 238-3150.
Before you dispose of a computer or mobile device, get rid of all your personal information on it. Erase or remove any memory or memory cards.
Lock your financial documents, records, and passwords in a safe place at home. Keep your PII secure from roommates or workers who come into your home. And always lock your wallet or purse in a safe place while at work.
Consider opting out of pre-screened offers of credit and insurance by mail. You can opt out for 5 years or permanently. To opt out, call (888) 567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com. Do this only if you do not want to receive any credit opportunities.
Have identity insurance. Get it for the ease. It is usually a small monthly fee. I have it for some extra peace of mind. If it ever happens to me again I’ll have a resource of people at the ready to assist me. I truly wished I had had this before I initially became a victim. Back then I knew very little about this crime and I really wanted and needed someone who had my back. The companies I know and trust are:
Report identity theft ASAP to avoid getting stuck with any liability. And once again don’t feel bad that you somehow caused it. It happens to the best of us.
ONLINE (CYBER WORLD)
Install protection anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Set your preference to update these protection tools often.
Continually UPDATE all your apps and software when your smartphone or computer requests it. These updates are valuable to securing information. On the backend the good guys are continually battling the bad guys, once they find and fix a vulnerability they send out the updates to us.
Change passwords often (monthly) on sensitive sites like your online banking. Use a phrase you will remember, such as “my first car was a real lemon so I bought a horse.” Then use the first letter of each word or substitute with a number or symbol, for example, M1cwarlsi$aH. The key is to create a password you can remember without having to write it down. When changing it you only need to change a few things like maybe add a $ sign, or maybe add a date like this M1cwarlsi$$aH or M1cwarlsi$aH2001.
Don’t use the automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off. That way, if your laptop or smartphone is stolen, thieves will have a harder getting at your PII. It’s better to have a fun password phrase and log in every time. This isn’t so hard once you get used to it.
Careful on social media. Set the privacy settings on all your social media accounts. Only invite trusted family and friends to be a part of your online social world. NEVER post your PII such as your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, full date of birth, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites! These attackers target social media accounts of identities they are piecing together. They wait, watch, and gather additional information, and use it to answer those ‘challenge’ questions to your accounts. (for a PII list click here)
Only use certified trusted websites before you log in or input any PII. Make sure there is an ‘S’ in the HTTPS within any URL; this means that you have established a trusted and encrypted connection with the website. Encryption is essential. Now, most banking sites are using a padlock icon, make sure it or something like it is visible.
NEVER click on email links or download anything you have not requested first from the emailer. For instance, don’t buy into emails links that are offering a free deal or a prize of sorts. If it’s too good to be true it usually is. And don’t download anything you haven’t purchased or requested from a trusted site. Plus, if a link comes into your email appearing from a friend but it doesn’t have a personal message with it, most likely it isn’t safe.
NEVER give your PII to anyone asking for it through email or over the phone. Someone is phishing (online) or pretexting (offline) you. Legitimate companies WILL NOT contact you and ask you for your PII. Only if you have initiated the contact or you know who you’re dealing with should you identify yourself.
At a bare minimum:
- Freeze your credit
- Don’t give out your SSN
- Update all software and apps, continually
- Get free credit reports, annually
- Keep private on Social Media sites
- View your banking activity, daily
- View your medical records, regularly