Staying Safe Out There - Best Practices for Preventing Identity Theft - Lexington Law

Back in the eighties the television show Hill Street Blues began every episode with roll call and Sgt. Esterhaus would always finish with the same line “let’s be careful out there.” The line was powerful because it was real. He knew his officers faced risks and they couldn’t all be avoided but they could be minimized if they stayed alert and aware and in a word “careful”.

The same phrase applies today to everyone when it comes to identity theft. You can’t always steer clear of trouble but you can be careful and minimize the chances of the bad guys getting the better of you. Being careful out there doesn’t mean never using a credit or debit card nor refusing to show id for fear someone will copy your address. No, being careful is more about being aware and exercising sound judgment.

Don’t Give Away the Farm

When legendary safe cracker and bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks he said “That’s where the money is.” If Willie were alive today he would probably never set foot in a bank because the real money for theft is not in a bank but in information.

Specifically information like social security numbers, connected to a name and birthday or account pin numbers.

Tip 1 – Don’t make it easy for identity thieves by carrying your social security card around with you. And certainly don’t carry a little slip of paper in your wallet with your bank account numbers, security codes and other bits of information that are the equivalent of the keys to the bank.

Finding or stealing a wallet with one of these cheat sheets in it is the holy grail to identity thieves because they can use that information to not only clean out your bank account but to apply for loans and credit in your name and you won’t find out about it until months or years later.

Smiling Faces

Tip 2 – Treat strangers requesting information about you the same way countries treat each other in nuclear weapons treaties; you can trust but verify. That means telling the very pleasant person who is calling from your credit card company to verify that your information is safe that you would rather not give them your account number. After all if they called you.

Scammers will often rely on little more than broad smile and cheerful tone of voice to convince you to provide them with important information. A simple rule is if they called you they should have all the information they need about who you are. If you’re not sure, tell them you’ll call them back and use a phone number from a statement not one provided by the mystery caller.

There’s Gold in Them Hills!

Tip 3 – Countless old westerns included a line about there being “gold in them thar hills” but modern day identity thieves don’t like digging through dirt for gold when there’s treasure in your trash! There are two things you should understand about your garbage. First when you roll it to the curb, it’s fair game for anyone to rummage through. Second, identity thieves love rooting through trash.

A credit card statement, bank statement, pay stub, social security stub. There are lots of things you through away that are worth a fortune to identity thieves, because they can use the information contained on them to clone you and send the clones to clean out you bank accounts or run up huge bills in your name.

So shred it. Shred it all. If it has your name and or any personal information about you on it shred it and wait until the last minute to take your trash to the curb.

Do Your Homework

Monitor your credit on a regular basis. Sign up for fraud alerts with your bank and credit card companies. It’s far better to get a phone call every now and then checking to see if you really wanted to buy a new pair of inline skates than finding out you really enjoyed that cruise around the world in a first class cabin with champagne and caviar twice a day.

When all else fails and you suspect you’ve been the victim of identity theft, don’t play detective and try and find the “perp” yourself. Use your head and be careful out there and call a professional to help sort out the problems and get your credit back under your control.

Posted in Identity Theft