Five keys for your identity theft protection: Internet Scambusters #635
With 13 million US victims last year alone, identity theft protection is no longer a "nice to have" option. It's a "must have."
Putting that protection in place needn't be complicated or expensive -- though paying a modest fee for a monitoring service could ease the burden of the task, as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have a warning about bogus property tax appraisers trying to get inside your home.
Now, here we go...
Tools and Tips for your Identity Theft Protection
There was a time -- not too long ago either -- when identify theft seemed a distant threat and identity theft protection was something you heard about but probably thought you didn't need.
Those days are gone thanks to increasingly sophisticated phishing and theft techniques, as well as hacking of customer databases at major retailers, banks, etc.
For instance, in the past two years alone, one of our Scambusters Team members has received seven notifications of hacks against retailers and others that included her personal data!
"So far," she says, "there's been no identity theft, but we're vigilant and well protected."
Latest estimates suggest the personal information of more than 13 million Americans ends up in the hands of criminals every year, and every two seconds another person falls victim.
The crime takes on many guises but the most common forms are claiming benefits and tax refunds using forged documents, the use of stolen credit and debit card numbers for fraudulent purchases, and taking out loans and other forms of credit in a victim's name.
And it's not just the financial cost that victims suffer but also the sheer pain of trying to put things right. In a worst case, it can take years to sort out.
So, what can, and should, you be doing to protect yourself? And are there useful tools that can ease some of the burden of constant monitoring?
The answer is a definite "Yes!"
In fact if you do all of the things we've listed below, you could substantially reduce the risk of falling victim -- though, of course, you can never completely eliminate that risk.
Here are what we consider the five keys to identity theft protection.
1. Get educated.
There are stacks of free resources available online to keep yourself up to date about current risks.
There's Scambusters, of course. We regularly publish issues on the subject to supplement our Identity Theft Information Center.
You can also sign up for alerts and get more information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The Commission has a useful guide on what to do if you discover your personal information may have been compromised.
Similarly, the IRS also offers help and advice on identity theft, which is particularly important in what is turning out to be another busy year for identity-related tax fraud.
If you're a savvy computer user and really interested, you could also set up a Google news alert based on the phrase "identity theft" and Google will send you a list of key stories every day containing the phrase.
2. Be cautious.
Any time you use your card, online or off, sign on to your web accounts or give information about yourself, including your Social Security number, think about who you're giving it to.
Do you know this individual or company? Are you sure they are who they say they are? Are you on a secure Internet page that uses "https" in the address?
When you insert a card into an ATM, check if the machine seems to have been tampered with.
3. Be secure.
Use and regularly update security software on your PC.
In most cases, this will stop attempts to steal confidential information stored on your hard drive.
It may also alert you if you're visiting a suspicious website.
Also, don't carry your Social Security or Medicare cards or additional, unnecessary payment cards around with you.
4. Be vigilant.
Like our Scambusters Team member, keep a very close eye on what's happening to your account, by monitoring online and paper statements.
This is especially important if you receive a notification that your personal information may have been stolen in a hack attack.
There are also tools -- books and software packages -- that provide additional actions you can take to foil identify theft attempts and to alert you to any possible breaches or fraudulent use of your personal information.
Remember too to get your free annual credit report from each of the Big Three credit bureaus. See this Scambusters report, Can You Really Get a Free Credit Report — Without Getting Scammed?, for more information:
If you have the time and the determination to "do it yourself" consider a package such as Identity Theft Deterrent.
5. Get help.
Increasingly, individuals are turning to monitoring and safeguarding services that employ all the latest security techniques that can stop identity thieves in their tracks, identify attempts to use your ID, or help with the laborious corrective process if you're already a victim.
Many credit card companies and banks offer this sort of service but we don't recommend them because they're costly and often not comprehensive enough in their scope.
Instead, consider a specialist service. There are many of these, offering a range of services for monthly subscription rates. The good ones include monitoring your status and credit applications with the Big Three bureaus, use of your credit cards, Social Security number and driver's license, address changes, public records, and bank account activity.
Many of them also offer insurance in some form of guarantee against theft and a few of them even come with their own Internet security software.
What We Do
Subscribers often ask us what we use personally for our identity theft protection.
The answer is that we follow all five of these keys.
For monitoring, our co-founders Audri and Jim Lanford use LifeLock for themselves and their families.
"Although the $1 million guarantee is great, it's not the biggest benefit. The real value is how LifeLock will save you hundreds of hours by helping you straighten everything out if your identity is stolen -- that is much more valuable than the guarantee," says Audri.
"They did a great job when we thought a family member's identity had been stolen."
Like most of the reputable companies in this category, LifeLock makes a monthly charge for its services.
If you've been sitting on the sidelines wondering if you should be doing more for identity theft protection, now is the time to act -- it's no longer a case of "if" but "when."
Alert of the Week
Most property tax levying agencies use appraisers to check homes for external additions and improvements.
But anyone who tries to get inside your home is probably a thief or a scammer.
If anyone calls to arrange an appointment for an internal inspection, don't make one. Instead, take their details and then phone your county or other tax authority independently to check them out.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!