Each year 8.4 million Americans are victims of identity theft. Ask around and it shouldn't be hard to find someone who can recant the tale of stolen identity. Frozen bank accounts, canceled credit cards, and ruined credit; the tales are frightful. Yet, just as one would protect a wallet full of money, one also needs to protect electronic cash.
Invest in a Shredder
Shredding documents which contain personal information is essential for financial safety. If a shredder isn't available, tear such documents into small pieces before discarding them; most thieves aren't going to work to piece things together. Some banks offer a shredding day where members may drop documents for shredding. However, the convenience of home shredding can be had for as little as $30.
Known as 'dumpster divers', thieves actually sort through trash in search of papers with personal information. Many identities are lost due to stolen mail or dumpster findings. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends that people cancel paper bills and resort to online bills and bank statements due to this type of thievery.
Keep It Personal
Personal information that can be used to identify you should be kept personal. Keep documents containing such information in a safe and secure location, and don't give out your social security number unless it is essential. The Federal Trade Commission advises, "Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with."
A Javelin Strategy and Research survey from February 2007 declares, "Most thieves still obtain personal information through traditional rather than electronic channels. In the cases where the method was known, 68.2% of information was obtained off-line versus only 11.6% obtained online."
Be Careful Where You Surf
Known as "phishing," e-mails that look surprisingly real often ask the recipient to click on a link and follow a procedure. Financial institutions as well as the Federal Trade Commission advise people to delete such e-mails. If you're wondering about the validity of the request, don't click on the link provided in the e-mail. Instead, go directly to the institution's website and follow the links there. For instance, if Amazon.com sends you an email asking to update your credit card information, go directly to the Amazon website and login to your user account. This is the safe way to protect yourself.
When it comes to identity protection, you need to be on the defensive. Be aware of missing mail such as bills or bank statements. Between 38%-48% of victims realize that they're victims within the first three months of the crime. Nearly 18% of the victims are unaware of their predicament for three to four years.
Thieves can easily complete a change of address form and have mail forwarded to the address of their choice. This allows sensitive information to be delivered to their hands. If mail seems to be 'disappearing,' contact your local post office and your bank.
With online banking, it's easy to overlook fraudulent charges. Often, we look at our online statements but we don't balance our checkbooks in the traditional fashion. This allows for small purchases to go unnoticed, leading to larger purchases down the road. Check statements carefully.
Many places offer help with protecting your identity.
For a free annual credit report, visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp.
To access more tips about online security, check out http://www.onguardonline.gov/.
If your identity is compromised, report it at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.
About The Author: Kelly Ann Butterbaugh is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to a variety of magazines and has written a history book for middle readers. Visit her website for writing help, lesson plans, history fun, or work for hire at http://www.kellybutterbaugh.com