It may seem a little odd to have a post about identity theft in a blog on organization. But when it comes down to it, organization – especially personal organization — is all about eliminating and preventing chaos, and if you’ve ever been or known the victim of identity theft, you know that the result of that crime can be chaos at its most basic. How can anyone maintain order in, let alone control over, their life when their very identity is in the hands of a stranger?
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. Estimates of victims range from half a million up to 750,000 each year, with many cases not reported or even unrecognized. The term actually includes a number of privacy crimes, such as theft of credit cards, phone calling cards, or Social Security numbers to name a few. And it can happen a number of ways: dumpster diving, “shoulder surfing,” internet frauds, etc., etc., etc. The imagination is the only limit on thieves
So, what can you do? Well, unfortunately, in this modern world, there are no ironclad guarantees on anything, but . . . You can organize your protection; there are steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of being a victim and having your life turned upside down. Here’s a few of the basics:
- Watch for “shoulder surfers.”
At ATMs or anywhere your personal numbers are being used, be alert for anyone standing a little too close.
- Don’t leave a paper trail.
Don’t leave ATM or credit card receipts where others can pick them up or even see them.
- Destroy the evidence.
Get a shredder and destroy anything with personal information on it.
- Corral your credit cards.
a. Fill out all applications and forms (even those for things other than credit cards) consistently with your full name.
b. Limit the number of credit cards you keep with you and never let them out of your sight.
c. Monitor your accounts carefully and be alert for anything unusual.
d. Close unused credit accounts and shred the card.
- Safeguard your Social Security number
a. Use your Social Security as little as possible. Don’t use it as an account number and don’t let it be printed or even written on your checks.
b. Don’t carry your Social Security number (or any cards that may have the number on them) together with your driver’s license.
c. Never give your Social Security number – or bank account information — to anyone making a phone solicitation.
- Monitor your credit report.
At least once a year, review your credit report and report anything suspicious immediately.
- Protect your mail.
a. Don’t leave mail in your mailbox where others can get it.
b. Mail payments and checks from a secure location, not your home.
c. If you’re moving, let your creditors know as soon as possible so your mail (and your credit cards or information) doesn’t end up at your old address.
- Watch your online shopping.
b. Be sure online credit cards charges are handled through a secure site or in encrypted mode. (Look at the site’s address: If the site is secure, it will begin with “https” rather than the usual “http”.)
c. Look for the Trust-e symbol or a Better Business Bureau seal on the site.
- Be persnickety.
a. Take your name off of mailing lists.
b. Be defensive about your personal information. Do they really need it? Why? What are they going to do with it?
And, don’t worry about what other people think: It’s your identity, not theirs.