Almost every one of us is carrying a wallet or purse full of personal information, and there are crooks out there just waiting to get their hands on them!  Some thieves may be hiding behind a computer, but there are many others that gain access to your good fortune and hard work simply the old-fashioned way, by stealing your purse or wallet.    Women, especially, should keep an eye on their purse at all times, and never leave it in their cars, even locked. 

When someone uses your personal information, they are committing identity fraud.  The Federal Trade Commission estimates that up to 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year.  This is a very serious crime, one that can result in causing hard working persons to spend a great deal of money and time repairing their good name and credit records.  Others may be able to resolve the problem easily, but it still shouldn’t happen to anyone. 

Just in case, it is a good idea for you to take the time NOW to copy front and back of every card that you carry with you.   You will need the information on the cards to help you with security codes and contact information required to report loss or theft.  If you have travel plans, keep this info with you in a safe place, and also keep it secure in your home. 

If you do online banking, etc., it is a good idea to change passwords often.  Don’t use the standard things such as your mother’s maiden name, your pet’s name, or other things they may have a way of discovering.  When you need to call your credit card company, don’t cancel your account, as that might hurt your credit score, if you have an outstanding balance.  Just ask for an account number change and explain what has happened.  If you should lose your checkbook, be sure to notify your bank and get a new ATM or debit card, along with a new checking account.  Monitor any online accounts that you have often in order to track suspicious transactions. 

The Federal Trade Commission classifies several types of identity theft as follows:

  • Dumpster Diving:  persons who rummage through trash, going through your bills and other information.
  • Skimming: stealing credit/debit card numbers by using specialized storage devices when processing your card.
  • Phishing: pretending to be companies or financial institutions that send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal personal information.
  • Changing your address: Divert billing statements by completing a change of address form.
  • Stealing:  Lifting wallets, purses, or stealing your mail that contains pre-approved credit card offers, new checks from your bank, or by bribing others who have access to personnel records.
  • Pretexting:  Persons who use false pretenses such as posing as an employee with a research firm to obtain your personal information.  Never give that information to anyone over the phone.   

Shred most statements within 45 days of receipt, unless you need them for proof of purchase.  Bank statements, check stubs, medical bills, and anything containing your personal information should also be shredded.  Keep income tax information, records of payments, and prescription and medical information that you need in a safe place. 

It’s sad, but there are bandits and cyber-bandits everywhere.  We need to protect our information and teach our children to do the same.  When it comes to your privacy, you can’t be too safe!