As a Neat Freak, I fancy myself a bit of an “I” dotter and a “T” crosser. So imagine my surprise when, earlier this month, I discovered that my identity had been stolen. Apparently, someone got access to my Social Security number and personal information and used it to create a fraudulent PayPal account. This was discovered when I started to receive collection notices from PayPal for purchases I had not made. If it can happen to the Neat Freak, it can probably happen to anyone, so here are a few steps to take to protect your identity:
Guard your Social Security Number! Memorize your number and keep your card in a secure spot (a locked fire-safe box or a safe deposit box is recommended). Make sure you shred any documents that contain your Social Security Number. Also, when asked for your SSN to set up accounts, ask if it’s really necessary to share that information. Sometimes it isn’t! The more people you share it with, the more you’re at risk.
Protect your computer. Just about everyone has sensitive information they access via computer these days. And everything is password protected, but many of us have fairly unsophisticated passwords. Consider a password solution like Last Pass to create and manage passwords.
Shred your documents! I recommend personal shredders for every home. A small desktop model will suffice for most. Documents that should be shredded include (but aren’t limited to) anything containing your SSN, banking and investment documents, medical documents with sensitive information, credit card offers, and just about anything that includes your name, address and an account number. If you have a large number of documents to shred, consider having an on-site shredding company come to your home to shred documents for you, or take advantage of local shred-a-thons.
Limit what sits in your mailbox. Having numerous credit card offers come to you in an unsecured mailbox can be unsafe. Remove yourself from credit card mailing offers at optoutprescreen.com. And make sure you check your mail regularly so other sensitive items aren’t sitting there for the taking!
Check your credit report annually. You can receive a free credit report from all three of the credit bureaus by visiting freecreditreport.com. Comb through this information to make sure that all accounts on your credit report are legitimate and dispute any discrepancies you find.
Consider freezing your credit. If you have no intention of purchasing a home or refinancing in the coming months, purchasing a car or applying for other credit, you can freeze your credit. This puts an extra layer of protection on your credit so accounts cannot be opened in your name without additional authorization. Do this for your kids, too! In a study with a sample of 40,000 U.S. children, 10% had their identity stolen via their SSN. Beginning January 1, 2016, parents or guardians can freeze the credit of their children here in N.C.
In the end, my identity theft matter was fairly straightforward and it didn’t impact my credit score. Phew! But numerous people have spent countless hours, a fair amount of money, and dealt with damaged credit as a result of identity theft. Don’t let it happen to you!