As promised last week, here are some ID theft answers.
1. Being pro-active in matter of your personal identity goes a long way toward keeping you safe. The much-publicized identity breaches affect about one-in-seven American adults in any given year.
Real identity theft, cases where the information is actually corrupted and used illegally, is only about a third of those breached. Even without the media hysteria, though, ID theft remains the fastest growing crime in America and around the world.
The worst part about full blown ID theft, aside from the sense of personal invasion, is the TIME and FRUSTRATION inherent in the process of sorting it all out. Yes, there are companies selling credit monitoring services.
However, chances are that you have access to such assistance at a far lower overall cost through your own homeowners insurance, as part and parcel to the better of the credit cards being marketed, or as an employee benefit through your workplace.
The best defense is a serious offense. Taping your account numbers and passwords on a neat list and putting them up on your refrigerator with a magnet is not a smart idea. Those numbers are like cash; treat them as such.
2. If you use a public computer, make sure you close your session and clear your passwords.
3, Monitor all incoming mail and email. LOOK at all statements.
4. Routinely change your passwords.
5. Do NOT use your dog’s name as a password, or your date of birth. (If you must, however, make me happy and at least throw in some $#@%&symbols after the word Spot, Fido or Brutus.)
6. Read the small print on your credit cards and use only the ones with the better guarantees for online purchases. Alternatively, use a pre-paid debit (like you can buy at Walgreen’s, Walmart, etc.) for online purchases from non-familiar vendors.
7. NEVER respond to pfishing scams; cleverly worded online or telephone scams where the only purpose is for THEM to obtain a “confirmation” of YOUR personal information. If you have a reason to believe a call is real, hang up and YOU call THEM on the number provided on an official form. (Like your bank statement.)
8. Be aware of the obvious. Your mail suddenly stops? Do not assume the mailman is sick … instead start from a paranoid feeling that a bad guy is up to no good. Check all accounts at least monthly or more often.
9. If you are computer able, order (and review) your own credit report every few months, (If you are not, get a trusted friend or relative to do it for you.) The law entitles you to one free report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Rotate! Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Order either from the individual agency or from annualcreditreport.com. WARNING: Knock-off sites that use words like “FREE” … are not!
10. Buy a document shredder. USE IT! On everything but the dog.
11. If you STILL want to hand out upwards of $100 a year, choose carefully and read the small print. Sometimes you will find more exclusions than provisions! Do I carry a $12.99 a month protection plan? No. I prefer to follow my own (above) advice and spend the money on a new pair of shoes. YMMV. (your mileage may vary.)
Finally? I guess I inadvertly fibbed about ALL of the information being provided this week. Next week I’ll get into Fraud Alerts vs. Credit Freezes.
Keep holding on. Part 3 coming up.
Drop by the Pahrump Valley Times offices, 2160 E. Calvada Blvd., for a copy of Leslie Kim’s latest book “123 Main Street … the Scamming of America.” Only $19.95 while supplies last.