You’ve seen a lot of chatter about it in the media. Identity theft. It seems to be all around us. Chances are, either you or someone you know has been a victim. I’ve given presentations on the topic and it never fails—when I ask people if they know someone who has been a victim, I’m amazed at how many hands go up. I mean, more than half of the people. Sometimes it’s just about the whole room. So what can you do and how do you protect yourself?
First, don’t panic. I have a story about this one. I met a very nice lady about a year ago. She was highly educated and had spent her life traveling and learning more than most of us will ever experience. But her sister had been a victim of identity theft a few years back. And this woman was so scared it would happen to her that she would lock her wallet around her waist whenever she went out to the store. Seriously. An actual, heavy lock. I felt so sorry for her. But I also realized that a lot of people feel this terrified about becoming a victim. Recognize that even though identity theft is real and all around us, you can easily minimize your chances of being prey to this crime.
Second, know where to go for help. I know people complain about he bureaucracy of our government and its agencies, but in this case, I think we have a real winner. The agency is the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). There is a whole section devoted to identity theft on their website (www.ftc.gov) and it is a marvelous reference for anyone concerned about avoiding identity theft, as well as what to do if you are a victim.
Third, take simple precautions. Don’t open files or links from emails that look suspicious. Don’t respond to emails requesting personal information from you. If you think your bank/credit card company/mortgage company, or the like, is requesting information from you, call the number on one of your statements or go separately to the company’s website to contact customer service and ask about the request. Monitor your credit cards and debit cards often. Shred all personal information before disposing of it. Don’t give out personal information about yourself unless absolutely necessary.
There are many, many other simple things you can do to help–I don’t have space to list them all here (check out the FTC website to see other suggestions). But the bottom line is that if you educate yourself on this topic, you will be less likely to
become a victim.
Spread the word, too, with family members, friends, and neighbors. One of the most maddening things to me is that it’s usually our population’s most vulnerable who are preyed upon. Let’s make sure these thieves can’t hurt us.
Good luck, happy holidays, and best wishes for remaining anonymous in the new year!