This was originally published on Monday, April 25 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
Having your identity stolen is one of the hardest things to repair because you are never sure how extensive the damage is. Perpetrators of identity theft may not even be in your area. They could be hundreds of miles away or halfway around the globe. They do not have to physically come in contact with you.
So how do you minimize the risk of being robbed of your identity by a thief you can’t even see?
It takes some extra steps and new habits and being aware of what you do with your personal information.
- Credit Report. One of the biggest signs that you have had your identity stolen is the use of your financial accounts. Your credit report contains a lot of personal and financial information. Look for accounts that have been opened in your name or monthly bills for which you are not responsible. If you have been in a situation where your information has been compromised, monitor it closely. You can receive three free credit reports a year, one from each of the reporting agencies. Request your free credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Be nosy. When giving your personal information don’t be afraid to ask questions. Why do you need my Social Security number? What is the information for? How do you secure or dispose of it? Be very careful with whom who you give your information.
- Secure your information. Place your passport, Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, and financial statements in a safe or file cabinet. Do not leave that information lying around for prying eyes to view.
- Mailbox protection. Purchase a mailbox that has a durable lock. Check your mail frequently do not let your mailbox get too full that mail cannot be placed in it. If you are utilizing home delivery place your mailbox in an area that is well lit and visible to everyone.
- Destroy documents. Be sure to cross-shred your bills, financial statements, medical information, or any documents containing personal information. Look for a shredder that cross-shreds papers and can shred old credit cards.
- Shopping. Be sure to use secure websites that start with “https” in the web address when shopping online. Some web browsers utilize little green locks to show that the site is secure. When shopping in a store keep your wallet on you at all times. Try to keep your credit card in sight at all times. Always get a customer copy of your receipt.
- Protect your passwords. Nowadays there are passwords or PINs for everything we use. Try not to use the same numbers or words. Do not use birth dates, names, phone numbers, or other personal information for your passwords. Change your passwords at least every six months. If possible use lower and upper case letters with symbols and numbers. Always remember to log off from your accounts.
- Do your homework. As technology changes so do the methods that identity thieves use. Keep abreast of the new ways hackers and identity thieves operate. Utilize new software and techniques that companies invent to protect you. There is a lot of useful information online.
- Use your gut. If you feel that something is not quite right, trust your instincts. If something is too good to be true it probably is.
Protecting yourself requires a bit of work but it is a lot less than the many hours needed to repair the damage of getting your identity stolen.
Create habits that help you and you family protect your personal information.
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 email@example.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.