Within the past six months two clients have become victims of identity theft. Thieves have become particularly adept at cybercrime…using the internet to steal your money. In one case our client received an internet message complete with perfect bank logo and a message indicating there had been some possible illegal activity in his account. The ‘bank’ was requesting some confirming account information so they could ‘protect’ his account. For ‘security’ purposes, they needed him to confirm his Social Security number, account number and other personal information. It all looked perfectly legitimate. It wasn’t, and over the course of one week his entire account was wiped out. The good news for my client was that the bank replaced his funds. Identity theft has become a multi-billion dollar business and virtually everyone is at risk. Here are some simple steps you can take to help protect yourself:
Never respond to an internet on-line request for information, no matter how legitimate it looks. If you receive an ‘alert’ requesting information, pick up the phone and call the company directly. Do not use the phone number included in the email. In some cases, they actually have ‘shops’ set up to receive your calls and get your information. Always take the time to look up the phone number yourself.
Buy a shredder. Everyone receives numerous credit card offers in the mail on a monthly basis. Typically, we toss them in the trash. Thieves actually go through people’s trash to find personal information they can use to steal your identity! Your best defense is to buy a paper shredder and shred everything that a crook could use to gather your personal data.
Reduce the number of solicitations. Not only are marketing solicitations unwanted, thieves can grab a credit card offer for you and use it for themselves if they can get enough of your personal information. There are several sources for ‘opting-out’ of unwanted solicitations:
www.optoutprescreen.com allows you to stop credit card offers for 5 years.
www.dmaconsumers.org removes you from many of the nation’s marketing solicitation lists.
www.donotcall.gov removes your phone number from telemarketing lists.
Protect your information. Whether you pay your bills from home or your office, take steps to keep your information private. Something as simple as a locked file cabinet can keep your personal information away from prying eyes.
Encrypt your wireless internet connection. Today, everything is going wireless. This is a wonderful convenience but also creates an opportunity for hackers to get into your system and steal your confidential information. There is excellent, relatively inexpensive encryption software that will foil would-be hackers.
Order your credit report each year from the three credit bureaus. You are allowed a free copy of your report every 12 months. Be sure you get one from each of the 3 bureaus since some companies report to only one. For your free credit report go to:
www.equifax.com or call 800 685-1111
www.experian.com or call 888 397-3742
www.transunion.com or call 877 322-8228