Identity Theft – Prevention

Posted on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

by Jennifer E. Acuff, CPA, CFP®, PFS, Windham Brannon Financial Group, LLC

Beware of the word “prevent” – no product or person can completely prevent identity theft. There will be theft so long as criminals can profit from stealing.  However, you can make it more difficult and lower your chances of becoming a victim by following these tips:

  • Do not carry unnecessary cards in your wallet – There are few reasons to ever carry around your social security card or birth certificate. Leave those, along with any other credit cards rarely used, at home.
  • Beware “shoulder surfers” – Carefully cover your hand when entering your personal identification numbers and watch for people standing uncomfortably close when using your credit or debit card. Given the technology of today and use of camera phones, your information could be stolen before you leave the store.
  • Don’t Click – Do NOT click on any links from financial institutions, the government, or any other unusual sender. Most of these emails are not legitimate and could likely be a virus that could expose your computer. One recurring fraudulent email is one posing to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and asks you to enter personal information for verification. Remember that the IRS will never send emails to taxpayers.
  • Do not give out your personal info on the phone – Many criminals pose as bank representatives, utility employees, or government agents in order to get you to reveal your social security number, Mother’s maiden name, or other identifying information. Hang up and call the customer service number on a recent statement to verify the legitimacy.
  • Install virus, spyware, & firewall software – Be sure and keep all software systems updated on your personal and work computer.
  • Take credit card receipts with you – Never leave receipts on the table or toss them without first shredding if the receipt includes your entire credit card number.
  • Shred all unused checks after you close any checking account.
  • Pick up new checks at your bank – Do not have the bank mail new checks to your home address; instead, pick them up at your local branch.
  • Review & Reconcile – Frequently review & reconcile your checking account and credit card transactions. Immediately challenge any unfamiliar purchases.
  • SHRED SHRED, SHRED – Shred all pre-approved credit card offers, any statements that list account numbers,  insurance information, physician statements, or any other personal information.  Note: You can opt out of receiving offers of credit in the mail by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).
  • Keep list & secure – Keep a list of all materials in your wallet, make photocopies of everything, and keep in a secure place (safe, lock box, etc). This way you will know exactly what is missing and the numbers to call if your wallet gets lost or stolen.
  • Do NOT “remember me” – Do not allow a website to “remember me” and enable automatic login when you visit the website later. Security trumps convenience!
  • Destroy before you Dump – Be sure to physically remove the hard drive of any old computer you throw out to ensure you are not passing along personal financial data.
  • Monitor Reports – Make it a habit to monitor your credit reports from the credit bureaus and inquire about any credit cards, balances, or past addresses they know is incorrect. Each person is entitled to one free credit report per year at annualcreditreport.com. Choose a date that is easy to remember, like your birthday or a holiday.

The last tip of monitoring your credit reports will be especially important if you question how severe an incident may be to warrant making an identity theft claim. If you were a victim of phishing or you lost your checkbook, your identity has not been stolen and used fraudulently… yet. However, you will need to monitor all accounts very closely to be sure you minimize the risk in the future.  As a second layer of security, consider paying for a monitoring service (for example – LifeLock). These services alert you when they detect your personal information may have been used, and they also help cancel and replace the contents of your wallet if it is lost/stolen. In severe cases, many services will pay for the fees to hire experts to help with the recovery process in the event of Identity Theft.

This list of steps may initially seem like a lot of work, but keep in mind that an ounce of prevention now could be worth hours of future time later and endless frustration.

Jennifer E. Acuff is a wealth advisor for Windham Brannon Financial Group, LLC, a wealth management firm in Atlanta, A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), Jennifer has an extensive background in personal tax planning and consulting. She can be reached at jacuff@wbfinancial.com or 678-510-2766.

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