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5 Tips for identity theft protection

This that time of year when we all start to get those emails about our secret codes and passwords. You know the ones that have subject lines like “Your account is about to be closed”, “There is a block on your account”, “Please help me get my funds”, or one of my favorites, “You’ve won the UK lottery”.

This is the time of year when we are buying gifts for family or customers, and the last thing we need is for our credit cards or bank accounts to be hindered. That is exactly what these cyber  grifters are counting on and unfortunately some of us are tempted to follow the instructions sent to investigate.

First and foremost, “DO NOT FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS IN THE EMAIL!! If you think there might be a problem, address the problem as you normally would on your PC, do not click on the link supplied in the phony email.

I’ve had some very authentic looking email supposedly from banks that went so far as to copy the bank logo, colors. and stationary style. But don’t fall for the scam. In fact, don’t even open the email, because many are set to loose a virus just by being opened. Forward the suspicious email to “spoof email” supplied by your bank or credit card company.

Nearly 10 million Americans fell prey to identity theft last year, costing individuals and businesses billions of dollars. Here are some tips to help you:

1. Understand debit card charges. Greater liability than credit cards. When it comes to fraud, debit cards carry much greater liability than credit cards depending on how quickly you report the card lost or stolen. If you fail to report unauthorized use of your card within 60 days of receiving your bank statements, you could lose all the money in the account and be held responsible for the amount of money tapped from your line of credit.

2. Rethink check writing. That little slip of paper has too much information on it. Some experts advise against check writing because it gives away your address, bank account number, etc., to complete strangers. On top of that, there is no federal legislation to limit your liability for forged checks, each state has it’s own laws. Experts advise you to look into automating your bill paying.

3. Secure your mail. Your mailbox is a goldmine of information. Between bank statements, bills, preapproved credit card offers, Your mailbox is full of information that identity thieves can use to apply for a credit card in your name. Unless you diligently check your credit report, you may never even know about it. One way to avoid this is to have your mailbox under lock and key, but many of us have our mailbox on the curb in front of our house and the mailman frowns on carrying dozens of keys around. One solution is to have a rented mailbox. or to foil “dumpster diving” thieves, by buying a shredder and destroying you mail before discarding it.

4. Go virtual. For shopping online, there are “virtual credit card numbers” that are disposable, that online shoppers can use one time and throw away. It’s linked directly to your real credit card so purchases will show up on your monthly bill. The service is free and easy to use. All you have to do is register with companies that offer the virtual card, they are MBNA, Discover, and Citigroup.

5. Create an emergency indentity kit. Would you know how to contact your credit card company in an emergency, Create an emergency kit that contains your card number, expiration date, issuing company name, and contact number for each card you own. While you’re at it, make copies of your driver’s licsense, social security card, birth certificate, passport, and store them in a locked box, file cabinet or safety deposit box. I like the safety deposit box because you’re protected in case of a catastrophe like fire or flood.

This may seem like a lot of unnecessary work. But, if you’re the victim of identity theft – even once – you’ll realize that it’s worth the effort.

Many of us forget that that were it not for what we carry in our wallets or purses, we would all be John or Jane Doe’s if we suffer an injury and are unable to speak, unless accompanied by someone who knows us. How much less stressful would it be to know that in a bank is information that can verify your identity. Better to be safe than sorry.

Remember, Don’t be a victim!

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