Identity theft can trap you into unredeemable debt and cause you great distress. While it's true that there is no iron clad protective measure against identity theft, there are ways that will make it difficult for others to encroach upon your finances.
1. Be careful how you dispose of financial statements – whether it's the ATM slip or credit card statement, ensure that you dispose of these very carefully. Identify thieves are known to go through your thrash and collect these documents to gain access to your finances. The best will be to shred these or, if that's not possible, tear them into small pieces.
2. Be careful what you ask by mail – ask for all your bills by email instead of hard copies. Identity thieves could be stealing your credit card bills, telephone bills and other such documents to accumulate enough information about you. As much as possible use electronic mail. If not possible, use a Post Office Box so your mail will not be available to any other person.
3. Be careful about your SSN – your SSN is your identity tag. When this falls into the wrong hands, it can create havoc in your life. Never carry your SSN card with you in the bag or wallet. Pay attention to all documents that have this number printed on them, such as your health insurance card – and keep these safely away from prying eyes.
4. Be careful about your receipts – this is important since most of our transactions are made by credit card. Ensure that you get your receipts and have these destroyed after the credit card bill is paid. Alternatively, store them in a file safely under lock and key. Do not leave these receipts at the store, gas station or any other place where you have used your credit card.
5. Be careful about your credit card use – enlist yourself to receive cell phone alerts every time your credit card is used. In this way you will be able to know instantly when and where your credit card has been charged. This is important when your payments are mostly made with credit cards – especially at restaurants, travel agencies, or such places where the credit cards need to be taken momentarily to run a charge.
6. Be careful about what information you give and where you give it – NEVER give any financial or personal information over the phone, no matter who they say they are when they call you. Be polite, but firm is refusing to divulge any private information over phone. Ask the caller to give you his address and name, and offer to come personally and give the information if they say they are from banks, health insurance agencies, etc. Keep in mind that such slips can wipe away your bank balance in a matter of minutes.
7. Be careful about your credit card statements – very often the identity thieves siphon small amounts of money from the credit card over a long period of time. Go through your statements carefully and ensure that you can vouch for every bill that is listed there.
What Can You Do When You Find Out You Have Been Victimized?
1. Contact the police – as soon as you find out that you're a victim of identity fraud. Inform the police and start an investigation. The sooner you do this, the better are the chances of catching the culprits.
2. Contact the credit bureaus – inform all the three credit bureaus about the mishap and add a copy of the report you have filed with the police regarding this matter. The coordinates to report fraud with the three credit bureaus are:
a. Experian – 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), or PO Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013.
b. Equifax – 1-800-525-6285, or PO Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
c. Transunion – 1-800-680-7289, or Fraud Victim Assistance Division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634.
3. Contact the concerned creditors – state in writing that you have been a victim of identity theft and work with them to act appropriately to recover the amount with the least trouble to you. Unfortunately, unless the identity theft is proven, you will be liable for the debt incurred.
You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting yourself from identity theft. This is one area where paranoia is a great virtue!