Use of credit cards, bank accounts, and other electronic monetary transactions are a necessity in today’s world. An unfortunate side effect of this otherwise wonderful technology is the prevalence of identity theft. Previously a small and isolated type of crime, this type of theft has become ubiquitous in a world where money is wired from account to account, and most personal information is handled digitally. News of medical records ending up in landfills reminds us that our privacy is not always within our control.
But this does not mean you can’t be vigilant and prepared. Here’s a great checklist from Reader’s Digest developed by former identity thieves to show you discreet ways criminals can help themselves to your money:
13 Things an Identity Thief Won’t Tell You
Watch your back. In line at the grocery store, I’ll hold my phone like I’m looking at the screen and snap your card as you’re using it. Next thing you know, I’m ordering things online—on your dime.
That red flag tells the mail carrier—and me—that you have outgoing mail. And that can mean credit card numbers and checks I can reproduce.
Check your bank and credit card balances at least once a week. I can do a lot of damage in the 30 days between statements.
In Europe, credit cards have an embedded chip and require a PIN, which makes them a lot harder to hack. Here, I can duplicate the magnetic stripe technology with a $50 machine.
If a bill doesn’t show up when it’s supposed to, don’t breathe a sigh of relief. Start to wonder if your mail has been stolen.
That’s me driving through your neighborhood at 3am on trash day. I fill my trunk with bags of garbage from different houses, then sort later.
You throw away the darnedest things— preapproved credit card applications, old bills, expired credit cards, checking account deposit slips, and crumpled up job or loan applications with all your personal information.
If you see something that looks like it doesn’t belong on the ATM or sticks out from the card slot, walk away. That’s the skimmer I attached to capture your card information and PIN.
Why don’t more of you call 888-5-OPTOUT to stop banks from sending you preapproved credit offers? You’re making it way too easy for me.
I use your credit cards all the time, and I never get asked for ID. A helpful hint: I’d never use a credit card with a picture on it.
I can call the electric company, pose as you, and say, “Hey, I thought I paid this bill. I can’t remember—did I use my Visa or MasterCard? Can you read me back that number?” I have to be in character, but it’s unbelievable what they’ll tell me.
Thanks for using your debit card instead of your credit card. Hackers are constantly breaking into retail databases, and debit cards give me direct access to your banking account.
Love that new credit card that showed up in your mailbox. If I can’t talk someone at your bank into activating it (and I usually can), I write down the number and put it back. After you’ve activated the card, I start using it.
Sources: Former identity thieves in Kentucky, Florida, Indiana, Virginia, and New York. From Reader’s Digest – September 2010
If you should become a victim of identity theft, be sure to contact your financial institutions to report the problem. Many insurance companies offer ID Theft Recovery coverage either as an automatic coverage or for a small charge.
*13 Things An Identity Thief Won’t Tell You | 13 Things | Reader’s Digest. Reader’s Digest Magazine Articles. Sept. 2010. Web. 31 Aug. 2010. .
Even if all these steps are noted and taken advantage of, there is a chance you may still become a victim. Fortunately, many homeowners’ insurance companies offer assistance in reclaiming your identity. If you’re not sure that your homeowners insurance includes ID theft coverage, contact us. It isn’t expensive and will save you a ton of time and money if some sly thief absconds in the middle of the night with your identity.
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