Prior to becoming a safety adviser for the National Association of REALTORS® Andrew Wooten had offered his expertise and information to our students. We are re-posting from his series of articles in memoriam of his exceptional service to us and the industry, continuing today with an article that was one of his most popular posts.
Identity Crisis: How to Protect Yourself against Identity Theft - Part 1
Your credit score has significantly increased. You receive a bill for a credit card you don't have. You go to apply for a car loan and are denied because of poor credit. You notice $0.01 charges in your checking account. What happened? Most likely, you've had your identity stolen.
Identity theft is when, by trickery or using publicly available date, someone obtains personal information about you, assumes your identity, and applies for credit cards, checking accounts or other financial access. The crook has become "you." They can now go on a spending spree, using up your good credit and reputation.
To protect yourself, be vigilant about protecting your personal information. This means not giving out credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, your birth date, or even your mailing address over the phone unless you initiate the call. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail-and your trash-from thieves.
Thieves use a variety of methods to obtain your information including "dumpster diving," where they go through your trash for mail or papers that contain personal information, such as your Social Security number on an old tax form or a mailing from your credit card company. These papers are a gold mine to an identity thief. You can block thieves by buying-and using-a shredder. Shred all documents containing personal information before you discard it.Identity thieves also use "skimming," "phishing" or just a simple change of address.
- Skimming is when someone steals credit or debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card. This can happen anywhere, so be sure to watch when they scan your card at a store, restaurant or gas station.
- Phishing is when false financial institutions or companies send spam or pop-up messages on a website to get you to reveal your personal information. Remember: no legitimate company is going to ask for your personal information unless you contact them.
- Lastly, some thieves will divert your billing statements to another location by changing your address. Keep track of when you receive your bills and statements. If one doesn't show up, contact the company immediately.
If you become aware of anyone using your identity, immediately notify the creditor involved, law enforcement authorities and the major credit bureaus. Next time we'll discuss steps you can take to lock down your information.
Guest author Andrew Wooten (August 19, 1962 - February 26, 2013) was the President of Safety Awareness Firearms Education (S.A.F.E.), and had been in the safety and security industry for the past twenty-six years. His platform successes led him to the creation of Crime Awareness Prevention Seminars (C.A.P.S.). He is a recognized expert in safety and security and speaks to thousands of professionals every year. You can find out more online at http://www.justbesafe.com.