45 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

by David@MoneyNing.com · 27 comments

Millions of people fall victim to identity theft each year. The number seems to be decreasing the past couple of years, but even one is too many in my opinion. To prevent the possible emotional and financial stress of having your identity stolen, just praying that the government and credit report agencies will further improve their system isn’t enough.

Below are 45 precautions you can take to prevent identity theft. Incorporate these into your way of life to greatly reduce the chances of fraud knocks on your door.

  1. >Never give out your social security number unless it’s absolutely necessary for what you need to do.
  2. Even if you have to give it out, make sure you know for sure who you are giving it to. Being comfortable with them is not enough. Know the other party and what they do, how they will use that number and where their privacy policy is located.
  3. Don’t carry your social security card anywhere.
  4. Get a paper shredder so no one can piece together important information (at the very least, rip up the documents yourself).
  5. Protect those PIN numbers – Cover the number pad when you are entering pins at the ATM machine and never tell anyone about them. Also, never use something like 1234 as your pin please.
  6. Pay a little more for an unlisted number – Again, fewer telemarketers mean fewer chances that you can become a target.
  7. Try to separate your personal information as much as possible – Don’t write your SSN on your checks or keeping your driver licenses with your SSN card.  If something is lost, at least the crooks only have one piece of information and not everything about you.
  8. Don’t Trust Anyone Over the Phone – Never give anything out over the phone. It’s just too dangerous.
  9. Do not keep any sensitive information in your car – Credit cards, statements, checks are a nono.
  10. Buy a safe – Better yet, get a safety deposit box at the bank where you can put important documents.
  11. Educate Others – If everyone teaches others about protections, there will be fewer identity thefts and fewer people who will try to do this because it’s not as lucrative.
  12. Be Alert – Think about how your identity can be stolen whenever you are dealing with your own sensitive information.
  13. Be Clam and Patient – Don’t do something with checks, credit cards, SSN numbers, etc when you are in a rush.
  14. Blank Spaces – Always draw a line on blank spaces: On credit card receipts, always write your amount with a $ symbol followed immediately with the numbers.  On checks, always draw a line after you write the amount in English (or in numbers).

identity theftCredit Report and Monitoring

  1. Sign up with a credit monitoring company.
  2. Freezing Your Credit – You can call the credit report agencies to freeze your credit so no one can ever apply for a credit card or get a loan under your name until you unfreeze it. It will cost money but the peace of mind might be worth it.
  3. Get free credit reports so you can check them (remember that if you don’t cancel your membership, they will charge you a monthly fee)

Knows Your Credit Cards

  1. Always know how many credit cards you have. While most people believe that cutting up used credit cards and not canceling them is better for your credit score, you run the danger of having others make fake cards as you lose track of how many accounts you have opened.
  2. Credit Card Receipts – Never leave them behind even if it doesn’t have the full credit card number. Gas stations, restaurants are the two places I see receipts all the time.
  3. Routinely check your credit card statement to make sure you really made all the purchases the transaction history shows.
  4. Instead of signing the back of the credit card, write “Check ID”.
  5. If your credit card company offers it, opt for the card that has your photo on it.
  6. If possible, choose to self pay so fewer people touch your card.
  7. And when you self pay, look for signs that the machine has been tampered with and avoid the ones that seem compromised.
  8. Create a list of phone numbers and credit cards that you have (it’s not absolutely crucial that you record the full credit card numbers on it but if you do, remember to keep it in a secure place). In case your wallet is stolen, you can quickly call all card companies to cancel those cards.
  9. One Off Credit Card Numbers – Some credit card companies will generate a “one-time-use” number for you to use online. Seriously consider using these.

Computers and the Internet

  1. Only make online purchases through trusted websites. Stuff like the Trust-e symbol, better business bureau stamp is a must.
  2. If possible, pay through services like Paypal or Visa checkout. This way, you aren’t giving a potentially compromised merchant your credit card information.
  3. And even if you have to type in your credit card information, never opt for convenience and save the information on their website.
  4. Install anti-virus or anti-spyware on your computer and never open links through an email unless you are absolutely sure that it’s safe. For now, you can also use a Mac instead (until macs get popular enough that crooks start targeting it as well)
  5. Monitor all your accounts online – Check your accounts regularly now that it’s so convenient to monitor them online. Make sure there’s nothing suspicious going on.
  6. Never save your passwords just for the convenience. Typing it out doesn’t take that much time. Also, the more complicated it is, the better.  Remember to also use capitals, letters, symbols and letters.
  7. Change your passwords regularly.
  8. Security tokens – Some banks are starting to offer those security tokens that change numbers every few seconds as an added security over your password when logging onto your online account.  Take advantage if yours offer one.
  9. Don’t log onto accounts using public computers – You don’t need the possible hassle of forgetting to log out.

Secure Your Mail and Mailboxes

  1. Cover your checks when you mail them so sensitive information is facing inwards.
  2. Better yet, get non-see-through envelopes so no one knows what’s inside.
  3. Limit the number of credit cards you own. You don’t need an army of credit to buy your groceries.
  4. Never leave bills in your mailbox for the mailman. Deliver it to the post office.
  5. When you move, contact all credit card, creditors, and IRS immediately of the address change.
  6. Go to opt-out prescreen and take yourself off the mailing list that credit card companies use to send out those “pre-approved junk mail”.
  7. Sign up for electronic delivery of your bills – No more mail, no more possible lost mail.
  8. If you don’t opt for electronic bills, make sure you are getting all your bills. A missing bill should sound off an alarm.
  9. Consider a P.O. box for your mail if the mailbox in your neighbor isn’t safe enough.
  10. Take your mail as soon as your mailman delivers it. If you pay attention, you will realize that he/she comes around the same time every business day.

These aren’t so hard to implement right? If you do all of the above, you will greatly reduce the chances of becoming an identity fraud victim. Start now and practice fraud prevention.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Brian Southion says:

    For many years now, I have avoided ID theft via the most practical means possible; ie whatever method I’ve used, it has always cost me money. Never try to save money by not being willing to pay for the best available; and one of
    my best solutions is to pay for a full service ‘Mail Redirection Service’ .

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      Have you tried freezing your credit reports via the 3 agencies? There are also services like Credit Karma now that offer free credit monitoring. You may want to look into those strategies.

  • Beau W says:

    Great tips David. I have had a P.O. box for years. The only way to keep your mail safe these days. And well worth the money. Do not call list is another one that is awesome. I also never have anything delivered to my home. It’s just not safe anymore. Kinda sad. A safety deposit box is the absolute best for keeping your important items. You can leave instructions with the bank if something happens to you too get it opened. ID thieves are getting smarter by the day it seems. And I hate thieves.

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      I hear people come by some neighborhoods to steal packages. Super sad.

      And plus, our Fedex guy always leaves packages for us on another street! So for example, our street address is 123 Fedex Forever Road but he leaves the packages on 123 Forever Road. It’s happened enough times that the previous owner of our house gave my wife the phone number of the owner of 123 Forever Road. They use to text the previous owner whenever their packages show up at the wrong address. Now they text us. It’s pretty ridiculous.

      • Beau W. says:

        Yes David they do steal packages. I’ve heard from a detective some thieves will follow the trucks to steal your package. Your FedEx guy needs a new map. And why would you risk a felony charge for theft with everyone having Video doorbells now?!

        • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

          Wow. I didn’t know they would follow the truck to steal packages. And I think my Fedex guy just needs to look at the address more carefully instead of a new map. It’s clearly a different address when one word is missing on the street.

  • Adam Wilson says:

    They’re all great tips. I would and vpn service to mask you ip address. It can also help you access geographically protected data. An encrypted password vault is a must these days. Are people really writing down their passwords and keeping them in a file ?

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      Using a VPN is another good tip. And no, I don’t think most people wrote down their passwords ever. A password manager is useful though. Just make sure you use a VERY secure master password.

  • breagha says:

    Two of the best things one can do is (1) never have mail delivered at your actual residence; and (2) invest in a 10-year passport booklet as a main form of ID. There are very few instances where you are REQUIRED to show a DL. Being pulled over by the highway patrol is one of them, as is going into the DMV. But other than that, I’ve had a 99.9% success rate (yes, even at hotels) w/ simply offering my passport as my ID. If they copy it, well, then they copy it.
    P.O. Boxes are so affordable. The smallest cubbies are only $21 for 6 months (currently, at least in my city). This price might be going up w/ the trouble the USPS is having in this economy, but even at doubled the price, it’s worth it for a little more peace of mind. I agree — never leave outgoing mail in your mailbox in front of your home. But why trust the opposite? Why leave it to chance that someone will not take your personal mail (possibly containing credit card offers) from right out in front of your house? This is increasingly easy if someone just waits a few days to see what time the postman comes, and what time you come home. If a homeowner can find out what time the delivery person comes, so can a thief. As for packages (yes, that is my one problem w/ using a PO box… that UPS and FedEx and DHL do not deliver to PO boxes), I also have a private mail box. You don’t need both… I just happened to have both. The private mail box is of course more expensive, but I have 24-hr access to my mail box and they accept all deliveries on my behalf.
    There is a great book called “How to Be Invisible” by J.J. Luna, and though the author’s main purpose is to tell people how to live “invisibly” to varying degrees, the bottom line is, according to him, that merely using a passport for your sole form of ID, and not having your mail delivered to your residence, are two of the best things you can do to help you from ID theft, and also protect you personally. I highly recommend his book, and his website.

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      PO Boxes are good. It’s just the hassle of needing to go get mail. Otherwise I’m all there. Like you said, the price is well worth the peace of mind!

  • Heather McFarland says:

    One of the real dangers of identity theft is when criminals obtain Protected Health Information (PHI), and other vital medical records. Your date of birth, social security number, home address – all of this, and more, is so incredibly sensitive that when it falls into the wrong hands it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Always ensure the safety and security of PHI and all other sensitive information by being vigilant as to who you give your information to. Never assume anything – ask if you are unsure. And remember, unlike credit cards that can be easily replaced, we all only have one date of birth, one social security number, so being breached has massive ramifications for years.

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      One thing I am always hesitant to do is to give my social security number to a medical office. Unfortunately, the clerk there never understands how it’s not a request to be taken lightly. I wish there was another way!

  • Hannah says:

    Thanks for such a great list.
    On point #6, I doubt that an unlisted phone number will stop most telemarketers, since they often have automatic dialers which call every number sequence, whether listed or unlisted. We were getting the same calls on our cell phone (not listed) that we received on the land line. But we signed up for the national Do Not Call list, and now only receive an occasional call… none so far in 2009.

    I agree that it is risky to give any information over the phone. Some of these callers even block out their phone # from call display, so you cannot tell who’s calling. We no longer do any business over the phone unless we initiate the call.

  • Janet says:

    DON’T use a safe deposit box for important papers. Once you die, it requires a court order to be able to get into the box. What if your WILL is in here?

    Plus, banks will use the flimsiest of excuses to drill and remove contents.

    “Don’t trust bank employees. ”Don’t allow a bank employee to keep your key and handle transactions for you if you’re not there — something elderly customers have done and regretted,” says Carol Mesheske, chief of a section in the FDIC’s Division of Supervision that monitors fraudulent activities at banks.”

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      This reminds me – I need to go to my safety deposit box and take a look. It’s been like a few years since I’ve checked. I don’t even remember what I have in there!

  • Kim says:

    When traveling overseas a lot of places will not accept a credit card that says ‘Check ID’.

  • Craig says:

    Mr. Judd’s comment about traveling around the country reminds me of hotels and motels. For many years many front desk staff have made it a habit of photocopying a driver’s license along with your credit card information when a guest checks in. Since they can also photocopy the backside of you credit card (with your signature) at the same time, they have everything except your SS number to reproduce your identity.

    Credit card services do not allow vendors to copy or retain personal information (driver’s licenses, etc.) because they don’t want to be sued if an identify theft case gets traced back to that vendor.

    The next time a front desk clerk attempts to take your license from you instead of just looking at it, tell them they can not copy it or record any information from it. If they refuse to rent you a room go elsewhere. If that is not an option, have them place a small PostIt note over the area that contains your driver’s license number and your address, only leaving your picture and name viewable. If they still refuse don’t stay there no matter what.

  • RA Judd says:

    One of the most frustrating problems I have dealt with in the last twelve months is a new “corporate policy” from the national chain of Pilot Fuel Centers.

    When a professional CDL driver goes into the fuel desk to have a pump turned on, they are asked to swipe a credit card prior to the sale. Then the attendant requires the driver to sign a blank receipt (electronically) prior to pumping fuel, even though he or she has already provided an ID number, company name and (in some instances), a “Frequent Fueler” card or retention of an actual driver’s license. All this seems to violate any agreements Pilot has with credit card services like VISA and others.

    The real concern is that — having already signed — a driver could go back to his rig, pump $5.00 worth of fuel and then return to the fuel desk where they are presented with a bill for $500.00. Since they have already signed for the transaction, how can they possibly dispute the charge?

    When I have tried to object to various Pilot locations across the country there have been three reactions by staff. (1) “I can’t turn on the pump unless you sign.” (NOT TRUE. At a number of stops staff simply turns on the pump any way.); (2) “We are a billion dollar company and we can do whatever we want.”; (3) In Denver, CO I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t leave the store immediately when I objected to signing in advance of purchase.

    Any comments?

  • Patrick says:

    I second what Christina says. Technically, a CC is not valid if unsigned. I have seen store employees refuse to accept a CC payment if it is unsigned.

    I recommend signing the card with a fine-pint ball-point and then overlaying your signature with “PLEASE SEE I.D.” with a Sharpie.

  • Tristan Phillips says:

    #20 is a violation of the Terms of Service for every credit card that I can think of. Are you telling people to violate their contract with the CC holder?

  • Christina says:

    Change 20 from “instead of” to “in addition to”. ALWAYS sign your credit card. If a thief gets a hold of an unsigned card, even if it says “Check ID”, they can sign your name in their own handwriting and it is just one step easier for them to steal your credit. The merchant may ask for ID, but they don’t always, even when you explicitly write Check ID on the card.

  • Craig says:

    It’s very difficult to 100% prevent theft. Unless you join lifelock, I hear they have great prevention and insurance. Do you recommend it? With so much information online and in computers these days, even if you use your CC with a credited and secure site, it’s never truly that safe unfortunately.

    • mom of 2 says:

      Lifelock is a joke–you can find out the same things faster by just checking your credit report. You might want to read this before you sign on with them. I had my ID stolen and signed up for the 30 day free trial. They never once reported that the woman also had a drivers license made and had opened a credit card account at Big Lots. She also tried to get instant credit at Best Buy and they reported her fraud and notified the police–they had a police report on file and she was denied credit and they are now looking for her. Here is the link to the article about LifeLock. Oh and when you ask LL customer care about the truth to the article they say they would rather not answer the question.

  • Jules @ The Francophile Files says:

    Thanks MoneyNing for the great list.

    Being aware and conscious about our person information is key. And I totally second CD Rates cross-cut shredder.

  • CD Rates says:

    The only thing I would suggest is spend a little extra and make sure that shredder is a cross-cut. Also, sometimes when shredding credit cards they don’t get shredded all of the way. You may need to put it through more than once.

    cd :O)

  • Peter says:

    One thing I’ve been doing a lot lately is using paypal one time use credit card numbers when I shop online, especially if I’m not sure about a website. That way the number can only be charged once, and then it’s no good anymore..

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