This was originally published on Monday, July 7, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
Question: My sister recently found out that her identity was stolen. She has been informing me of how difficult the process is to rectify the situation. Are there any tips you can provide that can help prevent this happening to me?
Answer: Identity theft is a serious problem and continues to grow worldwide. People are affected by it every day. There are numerous ways an identity can be stolen. It can be done using technology through online “phishing” scams or emails or through unsecure Wi-Fi spots. Other ways are more traditional like using information from a lost or stolen wallet or dumpster diving in your trash.
According to investopedia.com, identity theft is defined as “the crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person for the sole purpose of assuming that person’s name or identity in order to make transactions or purchases.” Consider every aspect of your information a puzzle piece. Once identity thieves collect enough pieces they can start putting it together to know more about you. The more pieces they collect the easier it is for them to steal your identity. Once your identity is stolen it can ruin your credit rating, personal reputation or even chances of getting a job. Although you may not be able to keep all the puzzle pieces out of the hands of identity thieves, you can make it more difficult to obtain. Here are a few tips:
• Social Security: Your Social Security number is one of the most important pieces of personal information you own. Think about what you have used your Social Security number for — jobs, college, banking, licenses, taxes, health care and much more. Think twice before giving anyone that information. Never carry your original card or any information with your Social Security number in your wallet or purse.
• Wallet/purse: Because we carry these items everywhere the chances are that one day it will be lost or stolen. Our wallets carry a lot of information about us. Photo copy everything in your wallet and keep it safe. This will help you remember what was in your wallet and who you will need to contact. It is hard to remember the user names, passwords and pin numbers for everything but do not keep that information in your wallet or purse.
• Mail: You receive and send a lot of financial and personal information in the mail. If possible ask banks if you can pick up checks and credit cards at the bank instead of mailing them to you. Use security envelopes for important documents. If the document is really important, consider spending a little more money on sending it certified. Pay attention to your mailing cycle. If your bills arrive late, contact the sender.
• Trash: We throw away a lot of personal information. If someone was to rummage through your trash, they could find credit card and bank account numbers, health insurance and more. Before throwing away anything with personal information, destroy it. Using a cross shredder works best. Shred receipts, old credit cards and statements. Black out your name and other personal information on medication bottles when disposing of them.
• Financial account: Keep current on all your financial accounts. Review your monthly statements and check them against your receipts. With today’s technology you can check your accounts a lot more frequently and in real time. Look for irregular withdrawals or charges or for companies that you have not had transactions with. Keep your receipts and always ask for a copy of the credit or debit card transaction, especially those that were entered incorrectly or voided.
• Credit report: Review your credit report at least once a year. All three credit agencies are required to provide a free review of your report once a year. Stagger your request so that every four months you can review your report. Consider using a secure and reputable credit-monitoring service, which can alert you when there is a change in your report. Correct fraudulent or suspicious activity as soon as possible.
Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.