Ten Tips for an Identity Theft-Free 2011

I haven’t been able to do much posting lately. They moved us to a different office here at the credit union, and it’s been a little nuts. However, everything is finally settling down, so I thought it might be good to do a little “top ten” sort of thing. Let’s start with what NOT to do:

1. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails

If you get an email that looks like it’s from a bank, credit card company, PayPal or other financial service, think before you click any links. Are they saying your account or card has been deactivated, and they need you to login to “verify” your personal information? That’s a common scam called phishing. The link will take you to a rogue website that may look like a real login page, but is designed to hand over your account and personal information to thieves.

2. Don’t give out your information to just anyone

You need to provide your personal information when you’re applying for a job, applying for a loan or opening a new financial account. If someone else is asking for your information, find out why before you even consider handing it over. And never give your information out to a person who calls you on the telephone, no matter who they claim to be, which brings us to…

3. Don’t implicitly trust Caller ID

With modern digital phone services, Caller ID can be manipulated to say just about anything. If they’re calling you and asking for nonpublic personal information, you could be looking at a scam.

4. Don’t carry your Social Security card with you

Look in your wallet or purse right now. Is your Social Security card in there? Get it out and put it in a lockbox or other secure location right now. If you get robbed, it’s bad enough that a thief has your cash and credit cards—do you need to hand them your identity as well?

5. Don’t leave personal information unsecured

In a quarter of identity theft cases, the victims know the person who stole their identity. Don’t leave personal information lying around, at home or at work.

Now, we all know that being reactive is only part of the equation; you have to be proactive as well. Here are some things TO do:

6. Buy a small paper shredder

With all the attention given to high-tech forms of identity theft, it’s easy to forget that a lot of it begins with dumpster diving and trash picking. A small shredder costs under $25. Not having one could cost you thousands.

7. Get a credit freeze

If you’re an Indiana resident, you have the right to place a credit freeze on your credit reports. This makes it impossible for a theif to open new accounts in your name even if they have all your information. More information is at www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/2411.htm.

8. Check your credit report

Ignore the commercials with the silly songs. You don’t really need your credit score or to enroll in any high-priced credit monitoring services. What you do need is to check your credit report at each of the three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Go to annualcreditreport.com and follow the instructions. Since the reports should all have the same information, it’s a good idea to stagger them—get TransUnion in January, Experian in May and Equifax in September, for example. Report any errors immediately.

9. Install virus protection on your computer

Norton, Kaspersky, McAfee: they’re all good, so pick one and use it. They cost money to buy, and you will have to pay annually to keep your software updated. I know, money doesn’t grow on trees, but spyware, viruses and keyloggers apparently do—you can’t afford not to have up-to-date virus protection software.

10. Educate yourself

Pay attention to news articles about fraud and identity theft. If you’ve got a question about something, research it online. Sign up for email alerts from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. And, naturally, keep checking right here for news, tips and other fraud prevention goodies. Have a secure and happy New Year.

Scam targets chain restaurants and convenience stores

This item from Arizona sort of blew my mind. I’d never even thought of a setup like this before, and I read about fraud every day.

It’s a scam that targets chain businesses like fast food restaurants and convenience stores. It starts with a phone call to the store late in the evening from someone who claims to be from upper management in the company.

The victim store is told that there was an incident earlier in the day; for example, a customer was injured or food poisoned. To avoid a lawsuit, they are instructed to give a bag of money (and sometimes, cases of food) to a taxi driver waiting outside.

Of course, the caller is just a thief, and the driver usually isn’t even in on the scam; he just had instructions to make a delivery.

First, if you’re an employee at a chain business, know this: legal matters are not settled with bags of money handed to taxi drivers. If someone is food poisoned or injured at a store or restaurant, there is an official, documented process by which such things are handled.

Second, if you’re an employee, also know this: if someone who claims to represent upper management calls, you need to verify who they are. Never give out personal information or store information to someone just because they claim to be an executive in the company. Anyone can claim to be anyone on the phone.

Finally, if you’re one of those executives, and you called one of your stores requesting information that might be considered sensitive, ask yourself this: how would you react to an employee who refused to give out information without a way to verify your identity? Would you become angry? Would you fire them on the spot? Or would you see that this is exactly the kind of person you want working for you?

Just something to consider.