How to prevent identity theft in 10 easy steps



This guest post is by  Cody R and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Here are some statistics to start: During a recent training class on identity theft I learned that bank robberies in the past year resulted in around $60 million in loses to US banks with the average incident being around $4,300.00. In the same your, bank fraud/identity theft resulted in around $20 billion with the average incident being around $79,000.00!!!

With numbers like that it is easy to assume that almost every adult today has either had their identity stolen or knows someone who has had this wonderful experience. With such heavy dependence on computers and heavy usage of mobile banking, smartphones, Wi-Fi, “Wi-Fi” credit cards and poorly handled personal data, it is easy to see why so many of us fall victim to this. As a police officer in the largest city in Texas, I respond to a very high number of incidents involving identity theft and have received additional training and education in dealing with this type of crime. Here I am going to provide some insight on how to prevent you from falling victim to this with some simple, practical and free advice that will greatly decrease the probability of your identity or that of your family members (and kids) from being stolen.

1. Limit the personal information you carry in your wallet/purse.

I will start by saying that there are VERY few reasons to carry a Social Security Card in your wallet, yet in nearly every robbery and/or burglary of a motor vehicle I have worked where someone’s wallet or purse was stolen, one article always missing is the victim’s Social Security Card (and many times the SSN’s of other family members including young children). Once this information is “out there” it can be nearly impossible to recover it in its entirety. It’s like ripping open a bean bag and then trying to pick up every spec of Styrofoam. This can be especially problematic when this information belongs to a minor, whose credit won’t become an issue until they are much older and begin applying for credit cards, jobs, military, etc.

It is also smart to only carry the credit cards you will be using that day and for each card you have, store the 1-800 number and card number so you can contact the appropriate personnel in the event of a lost or stolen card. Keep all sensitive information (Social Security Cards, credit cards, passports) in a secure place, preferably a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.

Also, check your credit cards to determine if they are “WIFI” enabled. (Pic enclosed) If they are you need to take special care with such cards and there are several options to choose from. You can wrap these cards in foil or purchase a special foil lined sleeve. Another way to disable this feature is to take a screwdriver and hammer and smash the Wi-Fi chip or simply take your card to your bank and ask to trade out your current Wi-Fi card for a more vintage (Wi-Fi-less) model.

There are many cases of credit card information being stolen via electronic pick pocketing at crowded locations like airports where a person passes in close proximity to another carry a briefcase with an electronic scanner and is able to obtain your credit card information just as if you were scanning it for a purchase transaction. (Check out this news story)

2. Never shop online with a credit card that is attached to your primary bank account.

If you must purchase products online (as I do frequently), use a prepaid credit card or open a separate account that has limited funds available to meet the demands of the purchase and no more.

Also, do not check bank accounts or make purchase on unsecure /free Wi-Fi, work computers or smartphones. We would like to think we can trust family members, friends and co-workers (especially other officers!), however, many thefts, including identity thefts are perpetrated by those closest to us. (look up the word purloin!)

3. Never provide anyone with social security information over the phone as there are plenty of other ways to prove your identity. (No financial institution will EVER call you and ask you to prove your identity.)

4. Constantly monitor your bank account information and check your credit report every year.

This can be time-consuming but not nearly as time-consuming as contacting the police to make a report which has to be brought to the bank, then wait several days for them to make a determination of fraud and then return your money minus the typical $50 fee. And credit reports can be obtained yearly for free from several sources (simply google, Free credit report and choose one after reading up on the source).

5. Be careful when applying for jobs, especially with companies you have not researched thoroughly

There have been numerous incidents where criminals have rented space in strip centers and posed as “job fairs” obtaining hundreds of applications with ALL personal identification information with no intention of ever hiring anyone, then using this information for criminal acts or selling it to someone who will do so.

6. Go old school and carry some cash.

If you are dining out, you can plan what you will spend by looking at menus online and bring cash accordingly. This will prevent a waiter/waitress from swiping your card when the disappear to their computer station and then selling that information to others. I have seen cases where 1 waiter obtained nearly 200 credit card numbers in 1 weekend!

(this example may sound paranoid and pessimistic, but it is actually happening with greater frequency and well worth the effort to maintain the integrity of your personal information)

7. Protect your children with lifelock, Equifax or some form of identity protection.

(this is the only suggestion that involves spending money but I feel it is money well spent.

8. Be careful where you fax/copy personal information

Copy machines contain hard drives just like computers and store every piece of information processed. Many company (even some police departments) copiers end up in discount warehouses with hard drive containing hundreds of thousands of documents store digitally in the hard drives and sold for pennies on the dollar. Infuriating I know, but this happens.

9. Stop paying your lawn guy, painter, house cleaner with personal checks!

Why you ask? Because each time you do this you are providing this person and anyone they wish to give the information to, your name, address, phone number, date of birth (and whatever else you have at the top left or your check!) and more importantly your ACCOUNT NUMBER!!! It is printed on the bottom of every check. Pay them with cash instead or open an account that, again, has limited cash and is not linked via overdraft to any of your other accounts.

10. Choose unique passwords/pin numbers.

Never use maiden names, dates of birth, etc for passwords as much of this information is public record and can be used to access other much more important personal data and financial information.

Identity theft is on the rise and funds everything from narcotics trade to terrorism. Please continue to educate and protect yourself from becoming the next victim. I hope this helps!

This contest will end on August 7 2012 – prizes include:

First Place : 1 Year Subscription to AlertsUSA, 1 Radiation Safety Package consisting of the following;  (1) NukAlert Radiation Monitor and Alarm (5) Radsticker Peel and Stick Dosimeters (1) Box Thyro Safe Potassium Iodide. All courtesy of AlertsUSA. A $150 gift certificate for Federal Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo. And a British Berkefeld water fillter system courtesy of  LPC Survival. A total prize value of over $700.

Second Place : A six pack Entrée Assortment courtesy of Augason Farms, a Nukalert courtesy of Shepherd Survival Supply and a WonderMill Grain Mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads. A total prize value of over $550.

Third Place : A copy of each of my books “31 Days to Survival” and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of The Survivalist Blog dot Net and “Kelly McCann’s Inside the Crucible Set” courtesy of Paladin Press. A total prize value of over $200.

Contest ends on August 7 2012.

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Comments

  1. JP in MT says:

    Identity theft will ruin your day, trust me. I have not personally gone through it, but I am currently helping 2 people with it. It’s a mess. Both had the idea that “it can’t happen to me”. Both were very wrong.

  2. Tonya from TN says:

    This article hits real close to home for our family. Just this past week, our local school system’s computer was hacked and over 100,000 individual’s personal information was released. We have had to notify all three credit bureaus for every member in our family and put fraud alerts on all accounts. It is scary because I trusted that at least the schools could keep our information safe. People need to make sure that they get their free credit report from all three agencies yearly and check for any possible problems. In addition, following your tips will help people to be more mindful of what information they share with the general public. Great post!!

    • Hunker-Down says:

      Tonya from TN,

      Dumb question; why did the school need social security numbers?

      • Encourager says:

        I’m obviously not Tonya, HD, but just about any school, doctor, dentist, insurance company, car dealership, grocery store bonus card, et al, will ask for your SSN. You do not have to give it. By law, it is NOT an identification number (I know, I used to work for Social Security). I even have a credit card where they insisted on my SSN, I told them no, and then the person told me to make up one. So I did, ending it in 0000, which is never used by SS. When I catch a doctor or dentist office using my SSN, I immediately have them delete it and tell them why (and ask how they got it, usually from my medical insurance!!) It is a never-ending battle.

    • Since you can generally get 1 free credit report per year from the three credit reporting agencies, it is a good idea to stagger them, requesting a free report from one agency, and then a report from the second agency in 4 months, and finally the third in another four months. This will give you the best overall coverage at the least cost.

  3. TexasScout says:

    Did not Lifelock get dinged to the time of over a million in fines for NOT delivering what they advertised ?

  4. Waterboy says:

    Great advice, thanks.

  5. Unknown says:

    Good article full of good information. I could still try to log onto my old PayPal account and a window would pop up asking for my CC# for “identification purposes.” I don’t think so!!! So, I can’t even get to the “cancel my account” or “customer service.” Thoroughly cleaning my machine made no difference. Oh well, good-bye PayPal account.

    • Encourager says:

      Wow, Unknown….I think your computer may have been infected. A while back I remember reading that a Trojan virus infecting your computer would send you to an alternate site that looked exactly like, for instance, PayPal, but was NOT PayPal. They would ask for your CC#, SSN, or other ID before routing you back to the real PayPal. You never knew you had been hacked. I would contact PayPal by phone and explain what has happened.

  6. Ann - Hermit's Baby Sis says:

    Thanks for this – I just had $800 removed from my account via my debit card which I had in my possession the whole time! Purchases were made in McAllen, S. Padre Island, and Alamo, while I was in Houston. Luckily my credit union’s fraud division caught it and contacted me. My money was returned to my account within 5 days, but could have taken 2 weeks, I was told. New limited account for us!

    Thanks again!

    • Encourager says:

      We had close friends, who in this horrible economy, lost their business and went bankrupt. In order to make reservations at a hotel or airline, they needed a credit or debit card as they had a death in the family across the country and needed to get there. They purchased a pre-paid debit card to use. Before they even used it the very day they got it, someone hacked it and used every penny on porn sites! Yes, they were reimbursed from the company they bought it from, but it took two weeks, they missed the funeral, and were totally broke, as that was all the monies they had and it was tied up. What a mess! I will NEVER get a debit card.

  7. I’d also recommend NOT using or having a DEBIT card. only use credit cards. Debit’s are targetted and the accounts have NO protection.

    on the other hand, CC’s are protected by federal law – if someone uses one for you, you are NOT liable. the CC companies are very protective.

    a second recommendation: BURN any sensitive mail or other paper documents. shredding is ok, but burning is final. ~80% of identity theft involves garbage or physical data collection – paper, receipts, etc. only ~20% is electronic or online (though it is sure to chage).

    • WESTPAC says:

      Ditto.

      As the VICTIM of two Identity Theft /Credit Card Fraud incidents, one involving an estranged family member & one when STRATFOR.com was hacked, I will testify that it will/can ruin your day.

      1. Have only one CC (I like VISA, since they have gotten real strict).
      2. No Debit cards.
      3. Shred everything, to include shipping labels, etc.
      4. Daily family inventory of IDs/CC, etc.
      5. Use a credit monitoring agency (I like Equifax).
      6. Keep important docs centrally located & conduct monthly inventory.
      7. Go ballistic over unwanted cold calls & other attempts to get your PII.
      8. Protect your family’s Cyber data (No social websites, strong passwords, educate them on phishing, etc.).
      9. Only basic data on checks (Do not even use them if you can avoid it).
      10. Be an A-hole! You DO NOT owe anybody who is trying to invade/interject themselves into your life anything. Protect yourself & your family at all costs…

      • WESTPAC,
        “10. Be an A-hole! . . .”
        When someone cold calls me,wastes my time, and invades my home, I don’t think I am the A-Hole. Just defending what’s mine from rude and ignorant people. They are in fact the A-Hole in this case.

  8. These are all good suggestions. Additionally, I’ve consolidated most all of my online purchases via PayPal, so when I authorize a purchase, the money is simply transferred from my account to the vendor account along with shipping information (Name, Address, Zip). So far I have had no issues with PayPal, and this keeps me from entering or having copies of personal information like CC numbers in vendor databases all over the net.
    I personally think we could stop Identity theft rather quickly with a few nationally televised executions. People would be much less likely to commit crimes that had serious, immediate, and dire consequences; but there I go dreaming again, LOL

    • We share a state…and some opinions. You may appreciate prodeathpenalty.com if you have a chance to check it out. A law professor told me about it years ago…

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Lol OP. “Final Consequences Reality Show presents – non-rehabilitated felon and now, three time loser….Joe Crook! Who will be executed by the winning firing squad! Let the games begin…!!!”

      Seriously, very important stuff. Mrs. SurvivorDan had her identity stolen once. Her credit was dinged and she was nearly arrested for an outstanding fraud warrant. The culprit was her illegal drug addicted and addlepated sister.

  9. re: passwords.

    Most people use the same password for almost every online site they sign up for: banking, credit cards, email accounts… blog posting. Further, most people use some easy to remember date, word or phrase. Word passwords can be cracked “brute force” in seconds. Dates are easy to crack if the hacker has almost any other personal info about you, much of which is easily available online (address, telephone). Once they have your email password, they can easily change passwords on any of your accounts.

    Trust me. Been there.

    To be secure online, you need to have a unique and randomly generated password for every online site you frequent, that includes uppercase, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols at least 12 characters long. Unfortunately, these types of secure passwords are impossible to remember.

    Try www lastpass dot com. The last password you’ll ever need to remember.

    I’m a user AND a believer.

    • Encourager says:

      I use Bible verses I pick at random (such as Amos6:20 or whatever). I will never run out of combinations!

      • When I look at my phone I use a combo of the time/date etc. so it’s completely random and nothing I could think of myself. Then I use a random combo of letters and numbers. I don’t run out either, lol

  10. button crazy says:

    I speak from personal experience the only way to kept someone from getting into your bank accounts is not to have any accounts. In one year they got into our account three times. Three different ways. For my pay pal account and e-bay account I use a account with only my name and the pay pal account is the only way for paying for online purchases. You must report to the fraud dept. of your bank and the police to obtain your money back. You must do everything you can to protect yourself. I never kept a lot of money in my accounts. I have two different banks with accounts. I kept some cash at home . I use only one debit card for purchases at major retailers. I check my bank accounts everyday or every other day on line. I use different pass words for all that i need them for. My e-mail server is great. I do not hardly any trash in my e-mails.

  11. michael c says:

    Quick question – how much fraud is going on with online tax sites. Seems to me that this should be a big problem, think about it – “free tax preperation at our site”. If it is online someone can hack it.

    I mail my taxes, on average, only 8 people have access to it. Everyone on the web in China or Russia can access stuff. I don’t think that the IRS has much pull in China.

  12. Debit Cards have the same protections under the law as Credit Cards. Business accounts do not.

    Credit Cards are not “WiFi” capable. They can use RFID technology, which is completely different (but still protected using foil).

  13. I’d also like to point out that cordless phones can easily be listened to by 3rd parties. So think about that next time you’re reciting your credit card number or other personal details over the phone to trusted sources. They may not be the only ones writing it down

  14. wannabemountainman says:

    When I first got my Social Security card, about 50 years ago, I read it thoroughly. In plain sight, it said “For Social Security purposes only! Not for identification!”. Yet, you can’t do anything in society without your Social Security number.

  15. The swipe-free credit cards you mention do not use Wi-Fi — they use RFID. To the best of my knowledge, there is no such thing as a Wi-Fi credit card.

    Instead of wrapping your RFID cards in tin-foil, you can get a special wallet such as this one: http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/security/8cdd/

    Avoiding unsecured Wi-Fi is a good idea, but it’s really just a band-aid for a more serious problem — poorly secured banking and e-commerce websites. Avoiding unsecured Wi-Fi doesn’t completely protect you from this. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it…

  16. Encourager says:

    Cody R, good article! I have been lax in many areas and will tighten up this week. Thanks for the heads up!