Identity theft has been in the news for many years now. And yet, identity fraud has continued to grow unabated and is costing our society billions of dollars each and every year. It has been reported that identity fraud hits a new victim every two seconds. If you do the math, that’s almost 16 million new victims every year.
So, what can you do to protect yourself against becoming a victim? First, know what numbers identity thieves covet. And understand, they already realize you are protecting your social security number (and if you are not, start doing so immediately). They are now looking for the everyday, mundane numbers that many of us take for granted. And how do they typically get that information? By mining social media profiles for information. People who still don’t have privacy settings on their social media profiles are prime targets.
Identity thieves will locate profiles with the most public information and send them pointed offers based on it — like to a favorite restaurant or retailer they have listed on their profiles or have visited recently. If they’re lucky, this can rope in victims and convince them to supply financial information like their credit card number. The easiest way to prevent thieves from getting this information is to simply keep it off your social media pages.
Here are the current top five numbers you need to safeguard:
Being asked for you ZIP code isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you are at a gas station filling your tank, you may be asked to enter your ZIP code after swiping your credit or debit card. This is good as it is an added security measure to deter a thief who might not know the number. On the other hand, being asked for your ZIP code at a brick-and-mortar store’s cash register isn’t good. It allows the store to use that information to figure out your address so you can be put on a mailing list or telemarketer call list. If a store asks for this information, opt out of giving it to them.
This information, along with your name and address, will be enough to allow thieves to buy your social security number on websites that normally sell them to businesses conducting background checks. Never put this information online.
When you receive calls with offers for free merchandise or to get an “extended warranty” on your 25-year old car that was paid off 22 years ago, HANG-UP! Trying to “opt out” won’t help. All that does is to let the marketer know they have a live number and you’ll end up with even more calls. One option to combat this is to keep your number unlisted or blocked for caller ID. But beware; thieves have special online software that will allow them to see the number anyway.
Numerous articles have been written on how easy it is for identity thieves to guess a password. When creating a password, make sure it is not associated with your birthdate, social security number or address. Also make sure it’s not absurdly simple, like “1234” or “1111” or “password”, etc, etc. Use upper and lower case letters, numbers and, if allowed, special characters such as “@” in the place of the letter “O” and “!” in place of the letter “L” or “I”. Just make sure the password you create is easy for you to remember.
Last but not least, protect your passport. Not everyone has a passport but if you do, make sure it is locked in a safe place. A passport number can easily open the door to identity theft. If it goes missing, call the State Department to immediately deactivate it and get a new one. If you are outside the U.S., contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Being the victim of identity theft can be extremely devastating not only because it’s your money being stolen, but your name. Identity thieves can be very skilled at finding their targets and then exploiting their findings. For this reason, to protect yourself you need to stay all the more alert and knowledgeable.