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.