Identity theft is not a new crime. It has just become highly technical and is perpetrated on a much broader scale in our present technological age. With the amount of techno-babble associated with this subject, it can cause headaches. Here are however, five basic tips that can possibly stop, at least individually, identity theft before it even is born of thought.
1. Securely dispose of mailed account and personal information.
People regularly receive articles of mail filled with identity sensitive documents. Documents such as bank statements, merchant or credit card bills, and invoices etc. Often they are randomly discarded with the other common refuse set out for collection i.e. public domain. People tend to have this sense of security that articles in the garbage are inaccessible and safe from intrusion. All an identity thief needs to do is pluck a few envelopes from the trash and get to work. The most effective method to eliminate this from happening is to invest in a cross-cut shredder that has at least a 10 sheet feed capacity, can handle a CD or credit card, and has at least a cross-cut shred size of 0.156" x 1.562". These are general specifications that may vary according to manufacturer and personal needs. Keep in mind the smaller the shred cut the higher the security. Shredders of this type can be found ranging from $100 to $200. Compared to the average cost to recover from identity theft at approximately $6000, it is a pretty good little investment.
2. Establish a personal identity verification PIN for any account information or modification.
Typically the same accounts that come via the mail are accessible by phone to resolve issues, make payment or perform account modifications. Sometimes the only verification of the account holder's identity is established with some basic information being provided, which any savvy criminal is quite capable of accomplishing. However, place a call to each of the account customer service lines and request a security PIN be kept on file for that account, which can be a word or number. Each time the account is accessed by phone, the pin must be provided otherwise no access is granted.
3. Use the ATM card as a credit card only.
Keep in mind that an ATM card will debit the funds immediately from the bank account rather than extending a small loan interest free for 30 days which is basically what a credit card does. When using an ATM the transaction will pause and wait for the PIN to be entered. Shocking as it may seem, criminals actually pose as shoppers and observe consumers in an attempt to capture the PIN. There are also some interesting technical ways this is done as well. To prevent this from happening is to simply not use the ATM as such but rather as a credit card. Then no PIN is required although sometimes a zip code is requested which does not pose a problem. Should the clerk ask if the transaction is debit or credit reply the card is used as a credit card. The only time the PIN should ever be used is while inside the bank at the teller window or at an authorized ATM machine.
4. A strong password is the first line of defense.
Again, try to weigh the extra steps involved against the worst case scenario. The favorite password of choice is pet names or backward birthdays which are all about as useful as just not bothering to use a password. To be clear, any password can be cracked. There are free password-hacking programs available that can crack just about any password in minutes. However, ease and speed are the desired cracks and passwords that are strong or have a good Bit Strength do not accommodate. Passwords with at least 14 characters and using what I like to refer to as U.L.N.S. (combining upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters) will provide a robust password not easily or quickly broken. If only 6 or 8 characters are available maintain the use of U.L.N.S. Every single account that requires a password should have a different unique password. Using the same password for all accounts means if one is hacked all your eggs are cracked. There are a variety of free and paid password utilities designed specifically for managing many passwords.
5. Avoid online bill paying through merchant websites.
Many banks and credit unions offer an online bill payment system from within their secured banking system. If they offer such a service, use it. Nearly all municipalities, private businesses, and credit card companies offer Web Payment options through their systems, sometimes adding the tempting offer of discounts for signing up for automated payments debited directly from the consumer's bank accounts. When a consumer uses the vendor website to pay online the vendor has been given a free pass into the private banking account of the consumer, albeit temporarily for that transaction. Even worse is if the consumer agrees to have automatic payments taken, which is an ongoing permission of unrestricted access to personal accounts of consumers. Because this is agreed upon by the consumer there is no protection to resolve disputes or outright theft. There is no protection of account information. When using the financial institutions internal systems, there is encryption and security and best of all, liability and responsibility protection.