With identity theft a growing and persistent problem, you should do everything in your power to keep your information safe. Here are some ways to make sure you are not being victimized.
Every time you receive a statement from your bank or credit card company, you should go over it with a fine tooth comb. A lot of times identity thieves will only do a little bit of damage before moving on, or will send you bills for companies you have not had nay business with, or will set you up for an automatic bill pay without your knowledge. If you see anything of the sort on your statements, contact the institution in question right away to let them know what is going on.
Bank statements should be especially scrutinized, as there are many ways to remove money from your account without your immediate knowledge. You could, for instance, have had some checks stolen or had your debit or credit card number lifted from any number of sources. Again, it is worth noting that identity thieves will not necessarily go for the big score all the time, and may just make an occasional purchase that they hope will not be noticed. Look over each and every purchase, withdrawal, and other transaction and make sure that it is something that either you did, or was authorized by you.
At least once a year and perhaps twice, you should make the effort to check your credit report via one or all of the major credit agencies. Take the information they provide you with and give it a good going over. Look for accounts that do not belong to you, loans that you haven’t taken out, and any other sort of transaction that you don’t know anything about. Make note of any inaccuracies and report them immediately to all of the credit agencies.
You may be surprised that there is no law against going through another person’s trash. Identity thieves do this on a regular basis to get certain types of documents that you may have carelessly thrown away. The best and easiest solution for this is to purchase a high quality shredder, and to use it on a regular basis. The shredder you buy should shred documents into a confetti-like cross cut pattern rather than long and straight strip cuts, as the cross cut paper shreds are virtually impossible to piece back together.
Some of the documents that you should shred when you are discarding include, of course, bank statements, credit card statements, credit card and loan applications that you are not going to use, any documents that contain your social security number or signature, and any medical or legal information.
You should also give serious thought to shredding:
Address labels, ATM receipts, copies of birth certificates (not the original), canceled, voided, or old checks, and check copies, investment documents, items containing driver’s license numbers, PIN numbers, pay stubs, tax documents (copies, or originals when allowed by law), and expired passports. This list is by no means exhaustive, but should get you started in keeping your mind on ways to keep your identity safe.