Words by: Bryon Gragg
Published May/June 2010
IN 1989 THE REPLACEMENTS HAD their only commercial hit song with “I’ll Be You.” In this day and age, that phrase has taken on a more sinister tone. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes today. The 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report stated there were 11.1 million adult identity fraud victims in 2009. While you may not be able to completely prevent your identity from being stolen, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from becoming an easy victim.
One important step is to protect your Social Security number. Never carry your Social Security card with you unless you are going to need it. Don’t have it printed on your checks or write it on the check at the request of the clerk. Don’t give your Social Security number over the phone unless you personally make the call to an organization you trust.
Make sure you keep the receipts from your credit card as they may contain your card number. It is always a good idea to keep your receipts and compare them against your monthly statement. When shopping, keep the receipts with you; if you leave them in a bag and the bag is stolen, your card number may be with it. Instead of just throwing out financial records such as credit card receipts, statements and even offers for credit, shred them. The best method is to use a shredder, but ripping the statements into very small pieces can be effective if done with care. With the cost of a personal shredder less than the cost of a family night at the movies, it is an investment that can help you sleep securely.
Children are warned not to talk to strangers. This important advice also applies to computer e-mail usage. If you receive an e-mail from someone you don’t know, especially if it has attached files or hyperlinks in the message, don’t open it. Clicking on the link or opening the attachment can expose you to viruses or spyware that can record your keystrokes. Don’t access any Web sites directly from the e-mail; instead use your stored bookmark or type the address directly into your browser.
A few years ago I received an e-mail stating there was a problem with my bank account and I should click the link to address the problem. The only issue was that I never had an account with that bank. Our office sometimes receives calls from clients regarding an e-mail claiming to be from the IRS stating a refund is due and they need personal information to send it. The amount is usually an odd number that isn’t too large and seems rather ordinary. This is a common scam that surfaces throughout the year. Generally the IRS doesn’t send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. In addition, the IRS doesn’t discuss tax account information or use e-mails to solicit sensitive financial and personal information.
It is a good idea to periodically review your credit report. You want to make sure the information is accurate and be on the lookout for any activity that may be fraudulent. You can get your credit report free once a year. Contact the Annual Credit Report Request Service online at www.annualcreditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228. You may also request the report in writing; see the Web site for details. These are only a few of the steps you can take to protect your identity. It is hoped by following these steps, someone else won’t be you.