Tips for Protecting Your Identity


Much is made of the potential for identity theft in online transactions, but the truth is that the vast majority occursdue to meat-space activities that are much simpler to pull off. I ran across a set of ideas on how to protect your identity and thought they'd be good to record. Some of them are obvious, at least to me, but they probably aren't to everyone. I don't know who the author was. Here they are, edited and augmented by me:

  • When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, do not put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.╩ This is more difficult to do if you use Quicken or some other electronic bill paying mechanism. I've often wished the credit card companies would give me a separate account number from my credit card number.
  • Put your work or cell phone number on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. Never have your Social Security Number printed on your╩checks.
  • Shred bills, credit offers, bank statements and other correspondence that may contain personally identifying information. This keeps people from rummaging through your trash to gather information that may come in handy for stealing your identity.
  • Mail bills and anything else that contains a check or account numbers in a drop box rather than leaving it in your mailbox for the mailman to pick up. Even better, start paying your bills electronically. This prevents theives from stealing your outgoing mail and using the checks or account numbers.
  • Photocopy the important items from your wallet, remembering to get both sides of each license, credit card, etc. Keep the photocopies in a safe place. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel.╩ make sure you have those phone numbers with this information.
  • I also carry a photocopy of my passport when I travel either here or abroad. Its probably not a bad idea to keep a photocopy of your driver's license with you when you travel as well in case it gets lost. You might be able to get on a plane and get home with it.
  • If your wallet is stolen, its important to cancel your credit cards immediately and notify your DMV and the Social Security administration (if you carry your Social Security card in your wallet---I do not for obvious reasons).
  • If your wallet or purse is stolen, file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation. There likely won't be one, but you established a record nonetheless. ╩
  • Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert will notify any company that checks your credit that your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. This will keep thieves from opening new numbers in your name, signing up for cell service, etc. It can stop them in their tracks. The numbers are:
  • Keep copies of all your correspondence with credit card companies. credit reporting agencies, and the government after your information is stolen.