In TNPC #3.14 I started this article series. In this episode I have compiled all the solutions, tips, and suggestions provided by the many kind and thoughtful readers who wrote in. (For privacy reasons I won't be listing even first names here, but you'll know who you are. Thanks to all the TNPCers who contributed.)
1. If the volume of your incoming postal mail suddenly drops, immediately check with your local Postmaster. Someone may have mailed a change of address card to your post office to start intercepting your mail, thereby acquiring your personal data, especially your social security number.
2. Make a list of all the dates on which your various credit card accounts deliver a bill. If any one of them is more than 1-2 mail-delivery days late, call the institution to verify that they still have your correct address. Identity thieves often monkey with an account and switch the address to one of their own choosing so you won't--they hope--notice what's happening to the account.
3. If you're a senior citizen and fall victim to identity theft follow this tip from a kind TNPCer, "If you are eligible for senior services, file a financial abuse report with the state/local agency. Many states are actively prosecuting elderly fraud and you may get more help (and faster action) when you have the criminal and civil agencies working together. Don't be surprised if they don't talk to each other; be prepared to provide the same information to all agencies."
4. Some readers swear by the "credit card insurance" services offered by most providers. Although I personally don't feel the need to pay for such a service (I maintain my own records about what cards exist and who to call about loss/theft), your mileage may vary. Remember that if you don't keep the service provider up to date on new cards, they can't be expected to cancel them for you.
5. A TNPCer's local police department provided a handout sheet entitled "IDENTITY THEFT: What to Do If It Happens To You" (a joint publication of CALPIRG and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, June 1998 Revision). The publication was funded by The San Francisco Foundation's Bank of America Consumer Education Fund. Under other useful resources it lists:
* Federal Government Information Center
(800) 688-9889 for help in obtaining agency phone numbers.
11965 Venice Blvd., Suite 408
Los Angeles, CA 90066
Find out about its support group, victims of Identity Theft. Participate in online victims' discussion group, voit- firstname.lastname@example.org, co-sponsored by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
* Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
1717 Kettner Ave., Suite 105
San Diego, CA 92101
Obtain its book, "The Privacy Rights Handbook" (Avon, 1997). We couldn't find this book on Amazon, but did find a close approximation, "Your Right to Privacy: A Basic Guide to Legal Rights in an Information Society (An American Civil Liberties Union Handbook)":
6. Social security number tips: if someone asks you for it, ask them why they need it; and never carry your SSN card with you unless it's needed, and then only for that day.
7. Destroy sensitive documents. Read: get a shredder. My dad has one that sits right on top of a standard office-sized waste basket. Cool! (Note to my parents: now you know what to get me for Christmas.)
8. Another direct quote regarding credit card transaction security, "If the store still uses the old carbon-type receipts, get the carbon copy of the receipt also. These could be pulled out of the trash by anyone knowing that particular business still uses the carbon-type receipts. This person will then have your credit card number, expiration date, and your signature."
9. Use a locked mail box, a slot in your door, or a P.O. box to secure incoming postal mail.
10. Mail credit card and similar bill payments directly at the post office rather than from your home's outgoing post box. Otherwise an identify thief has easy access to your credit card and bank account information.
11. Encourage and thank merchants who automatically ask for--and scrutinize--an ID for check and credit card purchases.
12. Keep a current list of bank account numbers, credit card numbers, contact numbers, and so forth; one copy at home and one in your safe deposit box.
13. If your wallet/purse is only misplaced temporarily, that doesn't mean all is well. Many readers related stories about identity theft that happened in a very short amount of time while their wallet/purse was misplaced, say, at the vet's office, fast food restaurant, library, airport ticket counter, etc. Sadly, you should assume the worst and treat a lost-but-then-found wallet/purse just like an outright theft.
14. Routinely photocopy the contents of your wallet, keeping one copy at home and one in your safe deposit box.
15. The National Fraud Information Center:http://www.TheNakedPC.com/t/318/tr.cgi?id4
There were plenty more reader tips and suggestions, but I'm out of room so look for Part 3 in a future issue.