Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Minimizing the risk and damage of identity theft

This is a follow-up to my previous post about credit card fraud.  Hopefully you won't ever need to worry about this, but with recent incidents at Target, Home Depot, and others, this is important information to keep handy. 

Minimizing the risk and damage of identity theft:

  • There are companies that specialize in preventing and minimizing the damage done by identity thieves, and help in repairing your identity and credit history.  Investigate these companies to find the one that works best for you before subscribing.

  • Take advantage of text, e-mail or phone alerts that your bank offers to allow you the quickest notification of suspicious activity.  Remember how I began my story, "My bank alerted me of the activity before I noticed it myself."  Your bank may have similar safeguards that are available. Ask a customer service representative to help you take advantage of them.
Things to remember related to the security of your wallet/purse:

  • Make a copy of all of the cards or documents contained in the wallet -- front and back. This serves as a record of everything that the thief might have access to, and provides you with a copy of the account numbers and contact numbers (back of card) to reach the bank or other credit card issuer.  Most cards have a special number to call and report lost or stolen cards.  Go ahead and copy everything: driver's license, rewards cards, medical insurance cards, membership cards, etc..  The information will be helpful in securing replacement cards and in helping prevent unauthorized use.  Keep these copies in a SAFE place at home, and take them along with you when you travel -- making sure to keep them in a very secure place while traveling (obviously not in your wallet or purse).  If the copy of your information is to be stored on your smart phone, secure it with appropriate password protection.

  • Never keep your Social Security card in your wallet.  Also, don't keep infrequently used cards or any particularly sensitive information in your wallet. The Social Security website has information about what to do if your Social Security card is lost or stolen.

  • When traveling, take only what you need in terms of cash, cards, identification and documents -- and keep them on your person, securely.  A handbag or backpack could be simply left behind by mistake, but the effect is the same as if the items were stolen.  Have a travel companion keep a card from a different account that you could access in the event another card is lost or stolen.  Do the same for your companion.           

Some of these lessons have been learned the hard way: by personal experience, or by the experience of friends and family.  Others have been avoided after taking advantage of advice from experts and by implementing new technology.  The most important thing to remember is that you must be diligent to protect your financial resources, and you should be quick to report suspicious activity and take action when you believe your information may have been compromised.

David Payne, Accounting Manager