Preventing low-tech identity theft

Written by Clint Turpen. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on August 12, 2011 with No Comments

by Clint Turpen

Have you ever watched a news broadcast on the topic of identity theft? Did you ever notice the over-the-shoulder graphics they use during these segments?

Invariably, the on-screen graphic will feature the words “ID theft” in a big, blocky typeface (usually at a slight angle). Surrounding the words will be a thumbprint, a stylized Social Security card and other symbols of identity and/or crime. The background will usually be moving rows of glowing ones and zeros, displayed in a “computery” font. The message is clear: Identity theft is one high-tech crime.

Furthermore, if you follow identity theft stories like I do, though, you find that law enforcement does arrest and convict identity thieves quite regularly. The prisons must be brimming with hackers, programmers and techies by now, right?

Not exactly.

The startling fact is a massive amount of identity theft still happens in some of the lowest-tech ways possible: Wallet theft, dumpster diving, theft by friends, family and coworkers and mail theft. Javelin Research’s 2009 identity theft report puts the split at over 75/25 in favor of low-tech methods. This data is a couple years old now, but the mix is not likely to have shifted drastically since.

Mail Theft

Mail theft only accounted for three percent of theft in Javelin’s survey, but if it’s a problem where you live, consider purchasing a locking mailbox.

If you decide to keep your standard box, don’t leave mail unattended for too long, especially after dark. If you’re traveling away from home, always have the post office halt delivery while you’re gone. You can also have a friend, neighbor or relative pick it up for you, but make sure they’re reliable. If they wait until three hours before you get home, it doesn’t help.

Friendly Theft

A significant number of victims report a friend, acquaintance, family member or coworker stole their identity. Don’t leave personal information lying around at home or at work.

Also, at work, ask where and how your records are kept. Are they paper, digital or both? Are they secure from unauthorized access? There have been cases of cleaning crews acting as fronts for identity theft rings. Ask your employer about security; they owe you that much.

Dumpster Diving

Identity thieves still dig through the trash to find personal information. Don’t help them out by throwing credit card offers or other documents away without destroying them first.

Preventing dumpster diving is easy: Do you own a crosscut paper shredder? If not, go out and buy one today—they can be had for $25 or less. No identity thief is going to spend a year trying to turn a pile of confetti into a readable document.

Theft During Transactions

Making a purchase can be an area of vulnerability. You’ve got your wallet out, possibly just hanging open. Your credit cards might be on display, along with your identification. It can be all too easy for a would-be thief to sidle up and snap a few pictures of the contents of your wallet while pretending to type a text message.

Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t let anybody stand too close when you’ve got your cards and identification out. Keep your cards and ID covered, and if anything feels out-of-place, it probably is.

Lost/Stolen Wallet

The majority of theft in Javelin’s report; 43 percent took place when the victim lost his or her wallet or had it stolen.

Most of the wallet-theft prevention tips are kind of standard (be aware of your surroundings, keep your wallet where it’s harder to get to, be conscious of where you put it and only take it out when needed), but I’ll add this: If you’ve got credit cards you never use, take them out of your wallet today. Also, do not carry your Social Security card inside your wallet. Thieves can do enough damage with your driver’s license and a couple credit cards; you don’t need to hand them the keys to the kingdom by throwing in your SSN, too.

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About Clint Turpen


All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Clint Turpen, marketing specialist at Regional Federal Credit Union, is a certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist. He is an author at Regional Federal Credit Union’s Fraud Prevention Unit Web site. For more information, visit www.fraudpreventionunit.org.

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