Identity Theft Prevention

Your Best Defense Against Identity Theft is a Good Offense

In order to understand how easy it is to implement identity theft prevention tips we should first define identity theft.  Here’s how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines it:   “Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.”

Here are some vitally important and easy to implement strategies that will help you thwart identity theft thieves.

Protect Your Personal Information.

Your Social Security Card – It’s a real good idea to leave your social security card in a safe place instead of your wallet, just in case your wallet gets lost or stolen.  Also, never leave it in the glove box or arm rest storage compartment of your car.  If your car is stolen the thieves will likely have your car registration, home address, your social security number and your automatic garage door opener!

Only give it out your social security number when it’s absolutely necessary.  Here are the instances when providing your social security number is mandatory:

  • Credit applications
  • Cash transactions over $10,000
  • When applying for certain federal benefits
  • Military paperwork and
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles

If a business or association other than the ones listed above asks for your social security number, ask to be shown evidence where you are required to provided your SSN.  If they cannot produce written documentation, you may freely decline to provide your social security number.

Safeguard Physical Documents

Make sure you store your financial documents in a safe location. Storing them in archive boxes in your garage is probably not a good idea given the number of garages that are broken into on a daily basis. Indoors in a locked filing cabinet is a better choice when it comes to identity theft prevention.

Be protective of your paper documents such as purchase receipts (some of them show your full credit card number), bank statements, billing statements etc. When it’s time to discard them be sure to shred them before throwing them in the trash. Identity thieves rummage through the trash looking for personal information they can use, don’t give them yours.

Credit Card Applications that you do not want should always be shredded. These forms often arrive in your mailbox with much of your personal information already filled-in by the credit card company. ID thieves take these forms, fill them out with their mailing address so the new credit card comes to them. Once they they get their hands on the credit card in your name they have a grand old time racking-up huge bills. By the time you know what they have been up to, you’re credit is shot and you’re left with trying to clean up the mess.

Periodically Check Your Credit Report and Financial Account Statements

It’s a good idea to check on your financial accounts regularly for any unusual activity. The IRS recommends that you review your credit report at least once per year. Other financial specialists recommend checking your credit report and other financial account statements once every quarter. Regularly monitoring your accounts will help you identify suspicious activity early-on, which will greatly reduce your risk factors.

Be Cautious When Giving Out Personal Information Over the Phone

If you are on the phone and you are being asked to divulge personal information, ask the company employee to send you an email, fax or letter on company letterhead requesting your information in writing. If the company is legitimate, most will gladly accommodate your request. If the person on the phone balks at your request, hang-up immediately and report the call to the abuse department of the real company that you thought called you.

Keep Your Zip Code to Yourself, Especially When Out in Public

Be mindful of divulging your zip code to businesses. Many retail stores have trained their staff to ask for your zip code when you’re at the cash register. They use that information to track sales, their customers and to devise marketing campaigns, among other things. Remember, employees of retail stores can ask for your zip code, but you don’t have to give it to them.

Use Extreme Caution When Divulging Personal & Financial Information Over the Internet.

Be extremely cautious whenever  you are on the Internet when it comes to sharing your personal information.  If you are not absolutely sure that the person you are connected to online is, in fact, an employee of the company or agency you believe you are communicating with, DO NOT give them your personal information!

If you receive an email from a bank, credit card company or major retailer asking for your account number, social security card, address or any other personal information DO NOT respond to that email. Report it to the Official website’s abuse department immediately.

CLICK HERE FOR A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE OF A PHISHING EMAIL – This example is an actual email that landed in my inbox about 2 weeks ago.  I reported it to Bank of America by phone and then sent them the phishing email so they could investigate.

Phishing emails often appear to be official (and therefore legitimate) because the con artists use a company logo, colors and fonts that look authentic (just like the example provided above) when creating the email notice. Here’s a short list of 5 telltale signs that could indicate that the email is more than likely bogus.

CLUE #1 – The Subject Line mentions something about money!

CLUE #2 – The email says ‘Dear Customer’ rather than your name

CLUE #3 – You are instructed to “click” a link at least once within the body of the email.  There usually is a sense of urgency attached to the instruction to ‘click’ on the link and that if you do click the link a problem will be solved.  Beware of this tactic.

CLUE #4 – The email address of the sender is from a gmail, yahoo or other generic or peculiar email account other than from the represented company’s website.

CLUE #5 – Look for spelling, grammar errors, phraseology and industry terms that aren’t used correctly. This should immediately send up a red flag that something is not right.

When in doubt, toss the email out!  However, trash them only after you have forwarded them to the legitimate company that is being spoofed.  You can call the company in question and ask for their fraud or abuse email address.  They will gladly give it to you.  These companies want to see the emails so their fraud departments can track them AND the people behind the fraudulent activity.

Every single time I have reported a phishing email I have received a thank you email from the fraud department.  First they thank me for reporting it and for assisting them in stopping fraudulent activity and then they confirm that the email was, indeed, a phishing email.

We’ve given you some easy tools to use in your identity theft prevention efforts and you can enjoy knowing that when you use them you’ve made a criminal’s job that much more difficult.


Go here to get a copy of the IRS Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.



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