Example: Sally always finds herself online shopping. One day, she finds a new pair of Louis Vuitton’s that she has to have. Sally is brought to a checkout page on the website. It’s here that she’s asked for more than just her address, phone number, and credit card information, but instead her date of birth, Social Security number and account number. Being naive, Sally enters her information.
Two months later…
Sally finds purchases on her credit card statement from Florida. Sally, who resides in NY, knows that she couldn’t possibly have purchased anything from there.
Sally discovers she has become a victim of identity theft.
Lesson learned: Consider who is asking for the information and what they are going to do with it. If someone is asking for more sensitive data, such as a social security number, double check to make sure that they aren’t part of a reported scam here and verify that they haven’t received any complaints with the BBB.
Tip #2: Shred all sensitive documents
Example: Bobby is a local con artist. He goes to the casino by day and steals credit card information by night. One night he decides to visit Tim Han’s hardware store. Tim, the owner of the store, exhausts himself every day for hours on end working and often finds himself setting aside paperwork in his shop. This paperwork contains the credit card numbers of people who have purchased a product over the phone. Yes, Tim writes down the credit card numbers. Once he is done with them, he throws them into the trash. Bobby, being the con-man that he is, digs into Tim’s trash one day in hopes he’ll find something. Low and behold, Bobby found 20 credit card numbers of people who will soon find out that he has stolen their credit card information.
20 people have officially become victims of credit card fraud.
Lesson learned: Shred your documents. There are thousands of “Bobbys” out there just waiting for you to make a mistake. Shredding documents is one of the best ways to protect yourself against identity theft and credit card fraud. By destroying all documents that contain any personal information (including your address, telephone numbers, and other sensitive data), you make it a lot harder for someone to find any useful information to use against you.
Tip#3: Secure your mailbox!
Example: Lionel is your neighborhood walker. At 6 am he gets up, puts on his workout clothes, and walks the neighborhood for an hour. Unbeknownst to you, Lionel has been contemplating whether or not he should be checking your mailbox every first of the month. He knows that on the 31st, you put your discover bill payment in the mail for it to be picked up the next day. Seeing as your account information is in the statement, this is the perfect opportunity for Lionel. Therefore [you guessed it] if Lionel decides to make a move and buy new workout clothes using your credit card information, you will officially become a victim of credit card fraud.
Lesson learned: Some people will go to great lengths to steal your information, and yes, including to your mailbox. You should reconsider leaving checks or other sensitive information in there just in case you have a Lionel wandering around your area.
Tip #4: Consider Electronic billing
I know some of you are probably like me and prefer your billing statements mailed, but considering that the digital world will forever be evolving, it may be a great time to consider electronic billing.
Example: Donny is 67 years old, and gets his electric bill delivered to his home every month. Bobby, our friend from Tip #2 is his neighbor. Do I need to say anymore?
Lesson learned: Paper billing is a perfect target for thieves, and it’s easy to throw away items that contain personal information without even thinking about it. But someone like Bobby, looking for this information, wouldn’t think twice. Someone like Donny may want to consider electronic billing.
Keep in mind: There are text broadcasting services out there to provide you with your account information at the push of a button, and even pay by phone/text options are available (be sure that they are a secure provider for that information).
Tip #5: Strong passwords will go far
Example: Jimmy has ten different online accounts ranging from email services all the way to banking accounts. He uses the same password for each account. One day the local hacker, Tommy, decides he’s going to hack into Jimmy’s banking account, only to find out that his banking password is linked to all of Jimmy’s other accounts. Jimmy has become a victim of identity theft.
Lesson learned: If you’re going to use the same password for everything, make it a strong one! Strong passwords include capital letters, numbers, special characters, etc. Although these passwords can be complicated to remember, there are sites such as lastpass.com that can save your passwords, so you don’t have to remind them and even generate secure passwords for you!
Button Up On Security
If you’re ever a victim of fraudulent activity, it could take an unmeasurable amount of time to clean up your credit and re-establish your credit score. When it comes to dealing with your sensitive data, be sure to keep in mind the risks of exposure and how it may affect you in the long-run.