Identity Theft – Offense is the Best Defense

Posted on: May 5th, 2010 by

Financial Planning - Rockville, MDWhile hackings of corporate databases demonstrate that no one is completely safe from identity theft, there are precautions you can take in order to minimize the odds of becoming a victim.  The first thing is to absolutely, at all costs, protect your Social Security number.  Do not print it on any form of personal identification, especially your checks.  Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet and try to avoid using it as a personal identifier when at all possible.  You never know who will have access to that data later.

Second, protect your mail.  To make your mailbox a less attractive target for identity thieves, try to reduce the amount of unsolicited offers you receive.  When you receive pre-approved credit card offers or insurance offers in the mail, shred them before you discard them.  You can opt out of receiving pre-approved offers simply by going to a free website called

Remember to either cancel your mail or have someone pick it up for you daily when you go on vacation.  If you don’t, the mounting pile of mail looks like a goldmine to con artists.  Also, they look at your trash as a prime target.  Any items that you plan to discard, including credit card offers, ATM receipts, bank statements, utility bills, or anything with any personal information on it should be shredded.   When you are disposing of expired credit cards, make sure they, too, are completely destroyed before discarding them.

Beware of the ever present telephone scam artists as well.  High-pressure callers often demand personal information with scams such as the promise of an extravagant vacation that you can only have if you act now.  I would just go with the rule that you should never provide personal information over the phone if you did not initiate the call.  And to limit these calls, you can ask the callers to place you on the do-not-call list and register with the National Do Not Call Registry.

Always safeguard your computer.  This is one of the easiest ways to get hit nowadays.  Never respond to unsolicited requests for personal information and ALWAYS use virus protection.  Protect your computer with a password and change it on a regular basis.  Another good idea is from time to time, search the internet for your name and last 4 digits of your SSN.  You would be surprised what people have found.

Make sure you protect the contents of your wallet.  On the backs of your credit cards, instead of signing them, write “photo ID required”; if your credit cards are stolen, it will be more difficult for a thief to make purchases.  Its always a good idea to make photocopies of everything in your wallet, since many of us have such an over abundance, so it your wallet is stolen, you have all the information you need to cancel everything.

Its a sad state of affairs when not even the deceased are safe from identity theft.  But, when a loved one does pass away, obtain several copies of the official death certificate and notify all financial institutions, insurance companies, credit card companies, and loan holders.  Its extremely important to remove the deceased relative’s name from all joint accounts as well.  And finally, contact the credit bureaus and request a deceased alert so that if their credit report is pulled, companies know the person is deceased and no credit should be issued in their name.

Identity theft is, unfortunately, a daily crime that we must all pay attention to and not stick our heads in the sand.  Your best tool is to take the offensive and do everything in your power to prevent the thieves from targeting you.  If you notice any suspicious activity on your financial statements, report it immediately and notify the credit bureaus.



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