Last week I was waiting for an important document to arrive in the mail. As I checked the mail every day, I realized how easy it would be for someone to steal my identity. We have a typical country mailbox, a few yards down the road from us. It’s not a locking box either. Anyone could come take our mail, and we wouldn’t know it. Our saving grace is that we live on an out of the way, dead end country road, and most people don’t know our road exists.
One of the most difficult crimes to deal with today is identity theft. When someone steals your identity and racks up credit card debt, bounces checks, and otherwise trashes your credit rating, it can be hard to survive in a world that is so dependent on good credit.
You may not be able to get a loan. Your car insurance rates may go up. You may be turned down for a job.
The best way to deal with identity theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. You’ve heard advertisements for companies like Lifelock, which claim to insure that you will never succumb to identity theft. But do you really need to pay to prevent your identity from being stolen?
The answer is yes…and no. No, you don’t need to pay a company to monitor your credit for you, though it certainly can’t hurt. But if you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for someone else to monitor your credit, there are simple steps you can take to make sure your identity is not stolen. Some will cost a little, but in the end, these purchases are well worth it.
A good shredder is an identity thief’s nightmare. If you merely toss bank statements, credit card applications, and other financial documents in the trash, it’s easy for a thief to raid your trash to find the information he needs to steal your identity.
If you shred all of your sensitive paperwork before tossing it, a thief will move on to an easier target. Shredding documents just takes a few seconds, but the result could save you from a big headache down the road.
By regularly checking your credit report, you will be able to quickly catch any strange activity. Checking your credit report is free at annualcreditreport.com. By law you can receive a free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies once a year.
Rather than ordering all your credit reports at once, though, you should order from a different agency once every four months. This will allow you to monitor your credit report throughout the year, making it easy to catch an identity thief before he does major damage.
If you are married, stagger your credit report orders with those of your spouse. Since many transactions are joint transactions, suspicious activity on your spouse’s credit report may alert you to a problem with your own. Another way to keep watch is to check your credit scores regularly with one of the many free services available.
Many identity thieves steal identities by stealing mail. If your mail isn’t secure, find a way to secure it. A small post office box doesn’t cost very much, and your mail will be kept safe in a locked PO box. Similarly, you can buy a locking mailbox for your house.
Leaving your mail unattended and unsecured isn’t worth it these days. Spend the money to make sure thieves can’t get easily get your mail. I use a UPS box for my blogging correspondence, and my plan is to use that address as my main mailing address from now on.
Identity theft is a crime of opportunity. If you make it hard for an identity thief to steal your identity, he will move on to an easier target.
Do you have any additional ideas to help prevent identity theft? If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, how did the thief get your information?
Photo by TheMuuj.
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I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.
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