A one hundred percent foolproof method of preventing identity theft does not exist and probably never will. But you absolutely need to take some safeguards that if nothing else, will not make you an easy target to becoming a victim of identity theft. ID theft is not pleasant, and if it occurs to you, you will end up spending countless hours of time for months to get it corrected, possibly also including some respectable legal fees, not to mention the damage to your reputation and credit report, so while the safeguards may be inconvenient, they are well worth your time to implement.
Many people would think that some sort of email or computer-based solution is the best place to start, but in reality, a large percentage of identity theft is accomplished with nothing more than a watchful eye and some sticky fingers. Identity theft has become an all too common problem in the last couple of years, and is said by multiple studies to be one of the fastest growing crimes of this decade.
Be fully aware that identity theft is not limited to your Internet or surfing activities. In fact, studies have shown that people who routinely use services like online banking and online bill paying services (from reputable sites) are actually found to be LESS likely targets for this, since people who use such services are more careful with their personal identification information than Joe Average.
Basically what happens is simply that someone gets some of your personal information, enough so that they can open accounts, get credit cards or loans, and open those accounts in your name, obviously without your knowledge of it. Think about it, what information is required to open a department store credit card or apply for a Visa or Mastercard? Name, address, phone number, social security number or drivers license number. With people moving around today, with other information intact, many credit issuers will not have a problem with a new account application showing a different address and different phone number than what the credit bureau reports. This is especially true because it is well known that credit bureau information is not very accurate, and in fact, the majority of consumers have ERRORS in their credit reports.
Keeping a close eye on your credit report should also be a part of your routine, making sure the information there is accurate, especially knowing that it probably is NOT accurate and will not get changed unless you initiate the change. For more information about winning your disputes with the credit bureaus and improving your credit score, you may wish to visit Improving Your Credit Score for more detailed information.
So you only find out that you have become a victim of identity theft because some creditor that you have never heard of is calling you at work to ask when you intend to start making payments on your account. What a rude surprise!
The moral of the story is to be extremely careful with your personal information. This is particularly true of government issued identification numbers such as your driver’s license number and your social security number. How frequently do you get offers in the mail about being pre-approved for a new credit card? If you are like most people, you probably get several of these every month. What do you do with them? Do you simply throw them in the trash, perhaps ripping them in half first? Most people do exactly that, but the information is still very readily available to anyone who has the inclination to go through people’s trash looking for exactly this type of information. You will probably never get away from the junk mail, but for under $50, you can get a paper shredder at virtually any office supply store, and then put those offers through that shredder.
Anything you can do to safeguard your personal information makes it far less likely that you will become a target for identity theft. When you think of the small investment in a shredder and the bit of extra time to ensure that you properly dispose of such information, compared against the MONTHS of personal time required to straighten out a mess if you are a victim, the tradeoff is more than worth it.
Jon is a computer engineer who maintains web sites on a variety of topics based on his knowledge and experience. You can read more about Preventing Identity Theft at his web site at Prevent Identity Theft .