A glance at any newspaper or TV news program will tell you that identity theft is a major problem in the United States - resulting in more than 10 million cases every year.
As aware as we are of the threat, there have been surprisingly few developments in the way of protection. Of course there are more photo credit cards being offered, and credit monitoring services and identity theft insurances are marketed all over the country, but few of these measures have proven to be really effective.
The real key to security is to protect yourself.
Don't throw away your identity - All an identity thief needs is your name, date of birth and Social Security number. Unfortunately, that information is often included in your correspondence, on your computer hard drive or on computer discs. Prevent thieves from pilfering it by shredding mail with a crosscut shredder (the kind that is hard to piece together). Break computer disks before discarding and either physically destroy your hard drive or use shredding software before you get rid of your computer.
Don't give it away either - Never give your Social Security number to anyone unless it is for employment, financing or insurance. Instead, ask for an alternate ID number.
Watch the mail - Protect your statements, credit card offers and outgoing payments with a locked mailbox. Or, have statements sent by secure e-mail. Make payments online or mail them from a secure box.
Hang on to your cards - It only takes a few seconds to lift information off the magnetic strip on your debit or credit card. Some private ATM machines have even been rigged to do this. Avoid private ATMs, and don't let your credit or debit card out of your sight.
Work your memory - Avoid easy passwords like your birthday or phone number. Instead, memorize combinations of letters and numbers. Never write down your password or let anyone overhear or see you enter it.
Lock-up online - Protect your computer with virus detection and firewall software. Log out of accounts when finished using them, then quit the browser so no one can tag on to your session.
Don't fall for it - Some criminals trick consumers into providing personal information with e-mail or Web sites that look like those of reputable companies. Before you submit personal information, always verify the site owner and use a secure Web form (look for the lock icon or https in the Web address).
Review everything - More than half of identity theft victims discover the crime by reviewing credit card and bank statements. Know when your statements should arrive, check them against your receipts, and question any charges you don't recognize. Reviewing your credit report annually can also help you detect identity theft. Look for unauthorized transactions, accounts you didn't open and inquiries you didn't approve. Immediately report errors in writing.
Consider an identity protection service - Some financial institutions offer identity protection packages that include regular credit reports, credit card theft insurance and automatic alerts whenever there is a significant change in your credit profile.
Taking these precautions can help prevent you from becoming another identity theft victim. If you suspect identity theft, immediately report it to the major credit bureaus and local law enforcement. Then file a complaint with the FTC by calling (877) IDTHEFT or at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
This article was submitted by Alan Boggs, Riverside Bank president in Brevard County.