Identify Theft: How to Safeguard Your Reputation
Identity theft is one of the most personal crimes. If someone uncovers enough of your personal information they can pretend to be you. Besides causing problems with your credit rating, thieves can also steal income tax refunds, even ones based on falsely filed returns. They can intercept and cash any kind of government or corporate check, such as Social Security, pension, disability or insurance. It does not have to be money either. It could be as insubstantial as frequent flyer miles or significant physical property, such as cars, boats and even homes. The most substantial and lasting consequence of identity theft is the damage to your reputation, since you get blamed for whatever they do. In this technological world we often do not know who is on the other side of a transaction. We identify ourselves with machine readable real world identifiers such as name, address, social security number, as well as passwords and account numbers. These digital tags open the door to identify theft.
If you become a victim of identity theft, understand that your friends may be sympathetic, but financial institutions and the people you deal with are going to be apathetic at best. It’s your identity and only you can fix this problem. If you do not take care of it, no one else can or will.
4 Steps to Survive an Identity Theft:
1. Get organized and keep careful records
2. Work with police to document the crime
3. Work with credit bureaus to minimize damage
4. Work with individual creditors to repair your relationship
You will need patience, diplomacy and persistence when dealing with the commercial and financial world that may not believe the customer is always right.
Always keep an eye out for weak areas where someone could take your identity. Be wary of e-mails that ask for too much personal information or offers that seem too good to be true. Often times these are scammers looking for an easy target. Don’t provide more information than necessary when navigating the web. When registering with a website, only provide the information that is absolutely necessary. The other information you provide can end up in a database used by internet marketers.
Register for the Do Not Call List
Utilize the National Do Not Call registry offered by the federal government. Register your phone number(s) at www.donotcall.gov. Many states also offer do not call lists. For state specific websites go to www.the-dma.org/government/donotcalllists.shtml. Signing up with both state and federal registries will prevent telemarketers from calling you.
Shred your documents
A paper shredder can be your most useful tool in protecting your identity. Shredding documents that contain your personal information or credit card offers will safeguard against thieves that look through trash for this information. Make a shred box for your mail and when the box gets full, shred the documents into unidentifiable pieces.
Keep track of your credit cards
Destroy all unwanted credit cards, either ones you’re not using or ones that you received unsolicited. Many document shredders can also shred credit cards. Check your credit report for accounts you did not create or activity in dormant accounts. Close any accounts that you no longer use.
Remove your information from old computers and hard drives
Old computers often contain personal data on them. E-mail archives, browsing histories, account numbers, banking information, and personal photographs often times still remain on hard drives. Even when you think you have completely removed all information from the hard drive, hidden files may still exist deep within system directories. Take a hammer to the hard drive, or drill a hole through the disk. Either of these methods will render the disk unreadable.
Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org)
Consumers Union (www.consumersunion.org)
Identity Theft: Prevention and Survival (www.identitytheft.org)
Privacy Right Clearinghouse (www.privacyrights.org/identity.htm)