Things that I never do:
- Throw anything with my name on it.
- Leave important documents just lying around the house.
- Put outgoing mail in the mailbox in front of my house.
- Give my social security number to anyone- I even questioned my Mom when she said she needed it to make me the contingent beneficiary on her retirement account.
- Post personal information online- I am amazed how people love to tell the whole world that their home will be unattended for days while they are on vacation.
- Leave town without first letting my credit cards and debit card banks know where and for how long I will be traveling—If they know where I am, they will know where I am not.
- Use a public computer to access anything secure- I don’t even check my email on public computers if I can help it.
- Click on links in emails.
Why so cautious you ask? Because I have been the victim of identity theft—twice.
I was contacted by my bank on a Thursday afternoon two years ago with the troubling information that someone had tried to use my ATM card at three different locations and had failed due to incorrect PIN entries. I was blown away. I checked my wallet and my ATM card was still in my possession.
“How did they get my ATM card?”
“There are so many different ways that these guys work,” the rep explained. “They use skimmers on the ATM machines, an employee at a store might have stolen it. Maybe you used a privately owned ATM at a gas station or convenience store and someone got it there. Or even if you used your ATM card in a crowded area and someone just looked over your shoulder to try to see the PIN.”
“So this happens a lot?” I asked
“Every day, thousands of times a day.”
I was so thankful that the bank was on the ball and notified me immediately and issued a new ATM card right away.
In the second incidence the bank also alerted me quickly. However, it was only after the thief had made off with $660 worth of stuff. This time the bank called to ask if I was in Italy or had recently authorized any purchases in Italy. Sitting at my desk… at work… in Michigan…the answer was no.
The thief had used my credit card to make a small purchase at a hotel to “Verify the validity of the card,” as the rep put it and then purchased nearly $700 in goods at a perfume boutique in Milan.
Thankfully the quick action of my credit card company and the Fair Credit Billing Act made sure I was not liable for any of the purchases.
Based on my experiences, my goal is to make it as difficult as possible for identity thieves to get my personal information. The best way to deal with identity theft is to avoid becoming a victim in the first place.