A friend of mine was the victim of identity theft recently, so I did some research and took action to further strengthen my identity self-defenses. Here's what I learned...
First, there are many measures that lots of folks don't take advantage of, for instance: paying cash for typical expenses such as groceries, using your credit card (not your debit card) for expenses where you want to take advantage of return policies, using your debit card only to take out cash and then only inside the bank branch (even ATMs outside bank branches have been hacked), regularly monitoring your accounts, setting up notifications with your bank and credit card companies (e.g., number of purchases, purchase amounts, ATM withdrawals, declined transactions, password and other account changes, suspicious activity), using strong passwords for online accounts and changing them regularly, even getting free credit reports once a year.
Second, there's a small world of stronger protections that aren't as commonly known:
- Ask to get on "do not mail" lists for free credit card offers, since these are an attack vector for people who might steal your mail.
- Create online accounts with all the usual services (IRS, Social Security Administration, etc.) so that someone else doesn't do so with your information.
- Set additional passwords or activate voice recognition features with banks, investment companies, and mobile phone providers so that someone can't complete a transaction (such as emptying your bank account or switching your phone number to a hacked phone and thus being able to change all manner of other accounts) even if they know your address, SSN, and other personal information. Personally, I like being asked for my special password every time I go into the bank to take out some cash. :-)
- Consider freezing your account with the credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) so that no one - such as someone who happens to have stolen your SSN - can pull a credit report on you without your knowledge. It's easy to unfreeze it if you need to and then freeze it again (although depending on what state you live in there's often a fee to do so).
Be safe out there!
Peter Saint-Andre > Journal