IDENTITY THEFT- PRACTICAL PROTECTION TIPS
us are aware that identity theft has become a major crime in the United
States as more and more of us use credit cards and passwords on our
computers to engage in domestic and international commerce. As the use of
the internet, ATM machines and credit cards becomes the typical way to
engage in purchases, the number of ways to use your identification
information to steal from you increases.
are limits to the amount a credit card company can hold you liable if
your card is stolen and used, but those limits do not necessarily apply
to the myriad other ways your identification can be abused to your
detriment and cannot make up for the destructive effect on your credit
rating and reputation that such abuse can cause. It was computed that the
average consumer will spend in excess of thirty hours in time taking
corrective action once such identification theft is discovered and for
those people in business or international commerce, the results can be
are statutory protections of great use. The problem is the international
nature of the crime. A culprit in Russia or the Ukraine, Nigeria or
Botswana, Brazil or Malaysia, can engage in crime on your server and the
odds of your government achieving effective criminal prosecution is
minute. While this may alter as the world adjusts to the new type of
commercial activities available, as of now it is up to you to be the best
line of defense to protect the vital information about your own account.
article shall discuss some practical steps one can and should take on a
regular basis to achieve effective privacy protection. The California
Department of Consumer Affairs has an extensive discussion of the
relevant privacy laws that the wise reader will review as well.
The Danger and the Response:
an oddity of human nature that the relationship between certain
technology and the human mind creates a sense of privacy and isolation
that reduces both the common sense and, at times, public courtesy of the
typical individual. All of us have seen how various people become
extremely aggressive or selfish when driving, as if the car windows
somehow insulated one from the same requirements of interaction in public
that all of us normally adhere to. People who would not even think of
squeezing into the front of the line in a bank or supermarket, cheerfully
and self-righteously edge into the long line of cars in a traffic jam or
seize a parking space with gleeful aggressiveness.
terms of the computer screen, a feeling of unjustified privacy seems to
overcome many. E mails have long been famous for the unbridled exchange
of information which not having a personal face to face encounter seems
to allow and people watch content on the “privacy” of their screen that
many would not consider watching on television or in the movies.
same odd sense of privacy has led many to cheerfully provide financial
information to websites about themselves and their finances that is of
great use to thieves and embezzlers. Once one clicks on the mouse and
enters the information, it is transmitted into an unknown amount of
servers worldwide and immediately beyond the effective protection of any
one government. You click the mouse and you may have posted the
information in a manner far, far more public than if you had rented a
billboard to broadcast the data.
client put it well. “I wouldn’t leave my wallet out on a table in my
doctor’s office because who knows who might grab it and my credit
cards…but I put what amounted to all my credit cards out on the web and,
for all I know, it was known to a million bums all over the world in an
use of the internet is too widespread and its convenience too valuable to
retreat to the days of check writing and personal transactions for all
purchases. What is needed instead is a basic list of intelligent actions
and protection devices so that the danger, if not eliminated, is
Practical Everyday Protections:
- KEEPING YOUR FINANCIAL
- Limit access to your personal
information from family and friends. Only those people that need to
know should know it and be allowed to use it.
- Before revealing any
personal financial or identifying information to a business, find
out how they intend to use it, do they share it with others and how
it will be kept confidential. Whenever possible, limit what you
- Never give out personal
information on the phone or though the mail or internet unless YOU
initiated the contact or know the person.
- Avoid using your Social
Security number to identify yourself in records or a business’
record. That number is the key to your identify for all
governmental and many private purposes and, more than any other
number, should be kept confidential. If possible, ask businesses to
assign you a different identification number than your SS number
for their purposes.
- Instruct your post
office not to process address change requests unless you personally
deliver the request. Ask your mailman how to do that.
- If you receive an e-mail
request that appears to be from your Internet Service Provider
stating that your account information needs to be updated or that
your credit card information appears to have expired to keep your
account active, do not respond without YOU contacting them to
confirm that this message is truly from them.
- Destroy credit card
solicitations that you get and decide not to use as well as any
convenience checks they may be sending to you.
- Each month, every month
check your credit card billing statements for each charge…and each
credit. If your credit card or creditor bills do not arrive on
time, call them to determine if the bills were sent out. (Stealing
such bills from your mailbox is a typical ploy.) Make sure your
mailbox is locked at all times and never allow others access to
your mail awaiting your pickup. Keep a calendar of what bills
normally come in when and if any bill is more than three days late,
make that call.
- Do keep your own
checkbook records up to date and use the statements delivered to
you from the bank or available on line to confirm that your records
and the banks match completely.
- Change your
identification password for access to accounts and information
about accounts no less often than annually and keep your list of
such access passwords in a secure location at all times.
- PASSWORDS: USE THEM
- Do not be “cute” with
passwords. Felons are well aware that people use variations of
family names, birthdays, etc. to create passwords easy to remember.
The best password is not necessarily the easiest one for you to
- Think about selecting
random passwords that no one could possibly compute by knowing your
family or personal information. While numbers are best, an
excellent alternative technique is to open a book at random and
chose the tenth word on the page followed by the page number.
- Other ideas for
impossible to anticipate passwords: make the password out of the
first letter of a list of several words; turn words into numbers
and special characters; blend the letters of two or more words into
one password; use only numbers for your passwords and chose the
numbers entirely at random by throwing dice six or eight times in a
- Change passwords at
least annually and quarterly is better. Remember that each time you
provide information such as passwords or account numbers to a third
party, you have breached security and it is only a matter of time
until that password is known to someone you do not wish to know the
- Do not rely on passwords
for truly critical information. There are programs available that
can break any password. The best way to protect information is to
load it onto a disc and remove it from the computer.
- Remember there are two
areas of concern: your own computer and your computer linked into
the internet. The latter opens access to your computer to the
world; the former only has concern about people on your local area
network or with physical access to your computer.
- The easier it is for you
to use your password, the easier it is for someone else to break
it. It may take ten minutes to memorize a random password while
your birthday will never be forgotten by you-but that ten minutes
is the difference between a password that is illusion and one that
actually gives a little protection.
- LEARN THE LAW TO PROTECT
YOUR PRIVACY…AND USE IT.
- Have your name, address
and phone number removed from many marketing list by contacting the
Direct Marketing Association. This will help but not fully solve
the problem since membership is voluntary. Contact www.the-dma.org.
- Have your name removed
from credit reporting agency lists to receive pre approved credit
offers or marketing offers by calling toll free 888-567-8688.
- If you discover you are
a victim of identify theft, you can immediately freeze your credit
by instituting a SECURITY FREEZE. This is provided by California
law and by checking with the California Department of Consumer
Affairs one can determine how to enforce it.
- Only use one credit card
when buying on line. This allows close tracking of all purchases
and if your security is breached, limits the damage. It is also a
good idea to use a card with a low credit limit and to only use
that card for online purchases.
- Use the various state
and federal agencies to report violations of your privacy. The
Federal Trade Commission and the California Department of Consumer
Affairs are excellent resources with very good websites.
- THEY WILL STEAL FROM YOU:
PREPARE FOR IT
- Just as sooner or later
the average car in the United States suffers a break in or is
stolen, so you must anticipate that sooner or later your identity
will be used to your loss. Just as you lock your car, carry car
insurance, and still know you will suffer some loss, so you must
take these precautions knowing that they cannot provide complete
- You would not leave your
valuable automobile in a bad neighborhood. Do not use your most
valuable credit information or card in a questionable transaction.
- Have a low limit card
you use for most purchases and keep your highest limit card for
transactions that are face to face.
- Keep track of what your
card is doing. As one of our clients stated, “It’s midnight. Do you
know where your card is?” In terms of the internet, the only way
you will know is by keeping track of your billing statement.
- Never share cards with
others. Even if they are honest, their use of the card may not
mirror the care you are taking and children are notorious for using
cards on line without taking any care about the information placed
on the net.
- And remember the net is
now used for far more than credit card transactions. From travel to
listing of homes, from chat rooms to bank inquiries, one faces
requests for information suddenly appearing on the screen. Careful.
It is almost always better to avoid use of the internet for any
is the advantage and bane of the new plethora of commercial transactions
on the web.
new crime derives directly from that and such crime will drastically
increase over the coming decade. In a very real way, your economic health
depends on you mastering the skill to protect your own credit and
financial identity from the new breed of thieves who are relying on your
lack of foresight to obtain access to the credit you have spent decades
is not a new challenge historically speaking. When the average person
first gained access to a checking account rather than cash in the late
nineteenth century it was necessary to learn the skill of protecting the
checkbook, the signature, and access to same as well as keeping a record
of each check signed. Now, a century and a half later, a similar increase
in access to financial convenience requires the same adjustment in
technique and security precautions. If mastered, the web can provide
remarkable convenience. If ignored, one can expect to suffer significant
financial loss and inconvenience. The reader is invited to read our
article on Credit
Report Problems if you are already too late!