January 21, 2014


Credit: jscreationzs 
Identity theft is a terrible problem that is sadly becoming more and more common. I must confess that I wasn’t that surprised when I first heard about the Target data breach over the holidays, but as the number of potentially affected shoppers has crept up close to 100 million, a lot more of my friends, family members, and clients have been asking me about it. Ask and you shall receive! Here are some suggestions for how you can try to protect yourself from identity theft whether you are a Target shopper or not:

  • Check your statements! It is so easy to throw away the statements or auto pay your bills and ignore your transaction history, but I urge you to take a look. Without reviewing my statements I would not have found out about my Michigan “stunt double” who likes really nice women’s boots from Zappos or my Athens, Georgia, “doppelganger” who went to town at the Apple store shortly after waiting on me at a restaurant. Those two fraudulent instances happened to me in the last three years and could have cost me more than one thousand dollars, but they didn’t because I review my statements.
  • Minimize (or eliminate) the number of times you use a debit card for purchases. When you use your debit card (or someone successfully claiming to be you uses your debit card), the money immediately leaves your bank account. When debit card fraud occurs, you will have to fight to get your money back, and it will take time. With credit card fraud you will still probably have to fill out some paperwork, but at least the money will never leave your hands (assuming you check your statement before you pay the bill!).
  • Destroy the labels on your prescriptions and on packages you receive so that your information is less available to any trash or recyclable “treasure hunters.” Rip up or shred documents containing personal information, and cut up your expired credit cards before you just toss them in the wastebasket.
  • Make a copy of your credit cards and important documents like your passport and driver’s license, and put them somewhere really safe. They won’t be of much value should the originals be lost, stolen, or disappear, but at least you will still have access to your information and quickly be able to find the 1-800 numbers you need to call to take action should a situation arise.
  • Be careful using public wireless networks. Computers are not my area of expertise, but I know enough to tell you that really smart, bad people can probably gain access to your information if you are not on an encrypted website or using a network that is not properly protected. I’m sorry, but airports, coffee shops, and hotels probably aren’t the best places to check your bank statement, pay your bills, or conduct personal business.
  • Take advantage of some of the notification features and fraud alerts that many banks and credit card companies offer. If someone tries to use my card for a significant amount or in a particular city or state I’m not often in, I’ve been able to set it up so that I get notified. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s usually free. Besides, if you’re spending a lot of dough in a lot of different cities, it can be a good reminder for you to cool your spending jets!
  • Review your credit report every year or two. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, so take advantage of that. Credit reports can help you detect identity theft, and they are good to review to make sure they are correct and up to date as credit reports can affect loan interest rates and even job applications.
  • There are tons of other things you can do to protect your identity, like freezing your credit or purchasing more encompassing identity theft protection services. If you are really worried, have been a recent victim of identity theft, or have a reason to think you could be at a high risk of identity theft, you may want to look into some of these additional techniques and services. Either way, I’d advise you to think like a thief when it comes to identity theft prevention - at least make it hard for them!
Target probably should have been more careful, more vigilant, and had more safeguards in place to prevent or at least quickly detect identity theft. That being said, all of us probably should.

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