A friend was recently revealing his encounters with someone writing forged checks all over town with his bank account and driver’s license numbers. While identity theft seems like one of those media generated fear campaigns, it is a real occurrence, and until I had heard this real life incident, I hadn’t realized how easy it was for someone to get your information and how much of a pain it is to fix the problems. Granted, your bank or credit card company already has a plan to get your money back, but the real issue becomes spending days and days fixing your credit, filing police reports, and dealing with all the merchants who have turned your information into collections agencies. Based on the information gathered from my friend’s frustrating misfortunes, here are some simple changes I’ve already made or will be making in the near future.
- Never write checks for anything. It’s hard to say ‘never’ on this one, but online checking will definitely be the preferred method for me as it already is for most reoccurring bills. The hard part will be paying cash or credit card for the variety of home services work such as home improvements or housecleaning, but as mentioned earlier, this inconvenience is relatively minor.
- Never put anything with theft potential in an unlocked mailbox. This one is easy to say ‘never’ due to the number of convenient secure mailboxes located around any city. Fortunately, I have centralized security mailboxes in my neighborhood, but the friend mentioned above believes his home-based mailbox is how his checking account information was acquired. The police mentioned it is very common for thieves to check the unsecured, individual mailboxes outside of many homes.
- Keep your driver’s license hidden as much as possible. Apparently, the state doesn’t consider driver’s license numbers as protected, and most likely, you won’t be able to get a new one if your identity is abused. Therefore, it’s up to each individual to secure their license, even though it can be acquired via the Internet with a little bit of work. This latter fact is why it’s so important to protect the other account numbers, because the combination of license and account is all that’s needed.
- Lock information inside your home. This can range from buying a small safe or just keeping account numbers in a locked file cabinet. Leaving bank and credit card statements out is just asking for trouble from the various services groups (air conditioning, painting, housecleaning, etc.) that may be inside a house over the course of time.
- Shred everything before trashing. Apparently, another sneaky way to acquire information is by digging through the trash, and since a small shredder is so cheap, there’s no reason to throw out any documents without being shredded.