ID Fear Factor

It's happened again. A friend sent an email last week telling us he'd been the victim of identity theft and credit card fraud. That makes 4 people we personally know who has suffered from this modern-day malady. Unfortunately, recovering from this is like recovering from a near-terminal disease. The road is long and rocky.

Even when you think you're being proactive in protecting your private information, sometimes, you-know-what happens.

What can you do to protect yourself? According to news articles I've read about Lifeline, that service that guarantees to protect you from identity theft, don't sign up for that! Currently, there are dozens of lawsuits against the company for failure to protect subscribers from identity theft. Even the owner has had his identity stolen.

10 Rules To Live By
1. Shred (or destroy in some way if you don't have a shredder) all those annoying pre-approved credit card offers. Ditto for pre-approved accounts like those that come with a check and if you endorse it, it signs you up for a service. Same for those loan checks that come with your credit card bills. (If you don't have a shredder, read my blog on Friday.)

2. Shred all unused medical prescriptions, the prescription labels on empty pill bottles, medical claim forms when you're completely finished with them, etc.

3. Never store financial papers in boxes in the garage where anyone can easily get into the box or even remove the box. It might be months before you discovered you'd lost something important. More likely, it would be discovered when you made the discovery that someone had stolen your identity.

4. Never throw old credit cards or statements in the trash without shredding them.

5. Never dispose of an old computer without completely wiping the hard drive. Just deleting the data doesn't erase it. With software you can buy anywhere, data can be restored on a hard drive. Also with software you can buy anywhere, a hard drive can be properly "wiped" clean. Get some.

6. Never dispose of an old cell phone, PDA, or similar device without removing all the data.

7. Never give out social security numbers, last 4 digits, driver's license number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, etc. to anyone who calls you and requests the information. If you called them about an issue, that's different. The same goes for replying to an email requesting personal information.

8. If you are in a bank or some place similar and you are asked for your social security number, do not say it aloud. Write it down and hand it to the bank officer.

9. If you've ever had a document filed with a clerk of court, ask if your social security number was recorded with the document. Some states still do this as an identifier for the persons involved. If so, anyone who requests public records can see it. If you live in a state that does this, contact your elected representatives to have this practice changed. Petition to have your identifier removed.

10. Never discuss personal business on a cell phone. I've been in restrooms and heard women discussing bosses, checking accounts, illicit love affairs, serious health issues including STDs, and much more. What is it with people and their cell phones? Do they think the rest of us are deaf?

That's enough to absorb now. Next week, look for some more strategies on dealing with this situation.

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