Have you or someone you know had their identity stolen? All it takes is tossing one credit card offer in the trash.
I know someone whose mom used to get the mail, take out the “real” mail, and throw out the junk. And that junk included credit card offers. She wouldn’t rip them up or shred them — in the garbage can they’d go, intact.
One day, she got a call from a collections agency about a balance on credit card that she didn’t possess, and this confused her. After talking to a customer service representative, they were able to determine that someone had fraudulently opened a credit card in her name. When her son asked how she disposed of credit card offers she got in the mail, she admitted she just threw them out.
The lesson? Destroy any papers you no longer want, such as bills, statements, receipts and, of course, the dozens of credit card offers consumers get each year. Because at the very least, it contains your name and address. Bank statements and credit card statements may have your full account number and phone number. Credit card preapproval letters and applications can also contain sensitive information that criminals just love to steal.
What You Can Do to Avoid Identity Theft
- Shred, shred, shred. You don’t have to buy a fancypants model with all the bells and whistles. Head to Target or Staples, and get a cross-cut shredder. Expect to spend anywhere from $20-$80, depending on how many sheets it can handle at a time and how large the collection bin is. Throughout the week, as junk and credit card offers with our name and address on them come in the mail, I make a pile. Then, once or twice a week, I give the shredder a good workout. The credit for this one goes to my dad, who is super-vigilant about protecting his identity (see my post on just how “old school” he is, technology-wise).
- Check your credit report. You can get a free credit report every year through AnnualCreditReport.com from all three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Keep an eye out for any rogue accounts that you haven’t opened yourself. If you find anything suspicious, immediately report the issue to the agencies and the credit card company.
- Watch your bank accounts. Carefully check your statements each month to ensure there haven’t been any unauthorized transactions. Red flags include large withdrawals or an unfamiliar vendors.
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the U.S. Justice Department recommends immediately contacting the Federal Trade Commission, Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. Sounds like overkill, but you want to ensure the authorities are aware of the situation in order to protect yourselves. The criminals behind your identity theft could be part of a larger ring, and the more information the authorities have, the better the chances are that they can be apprehended. And there’s nothing like getting the bad guys!
I’m obviously a big shredder proponent. What steps do you take to protect your identity?