Identity theft is everywhere. It can take the form of someone purchasing an item using your credit card number, applying for credit in your name, or impersonating you when pulled over by a police officer. It is not hard to see why. Think about how many times you are asked to give out your social security number (SSN). In addition to your creditors such as the mortgage and credit card companies, your doctor’s office has it, your phone company knows it, and your employer has got a record of it. How do you safeguard this information?
The first thing to do is to limit the number of times you give out your SSN. You must give out the information to those who extend you lines of credit and those who employ you. You do not necessarily need to give it out to utility companies or cell phone providers. In exchange for not giving out your social security number, ask if you can pay an upfront deposit which will be returned to you when your contract expires. The deposit is usually in the amount of one or two monthly payments. While being treated for a medical condition, in addition to providing evidence of insurance coverage, you will often be asked for your SSN. You are not required to give out this information. The hospital can not refuse to treat you. Also, do not put your SSN on job or rental applications if you are not sold on the job or apartment. Wait till you know for sure that you are 100% committed. Finally, another way to prevent your SSN from circulating is to buy a shredder and shred any sensitive information prior to putting it out in the trash.
Another potential gold mine for identity thieves are those preapproved credit card applications and access checks. A thief who gets a hold of these offers can get credit with your SSN, birthdate, and then input any address or phone number they desire. Access checks are an even easier target for identity thieves. They don’t require the thief to have any personal information on their potential victim. One way to prevent this is to shred preapproved credit cards once you receive them and arrange for your mail to be forwarded prior to a move. To prevent access checks from getting into the wrong hands, call your credit card company and ask them not to send any out.
Most importantly, be vigilant. In addition to following the recommendations outline above set up an online account with your credit card companies. This allows you to monitor your credit card activity for unauthorized activity daily and even hourly for the more obsessive-compulsive.