The Misfit's Manual to Protecting Your Identity

The night before every trash day, Betty would watch numerous individuals rifle through her trash looking for glass and plastic items to recycle. Paranoid that one of those individuals was looking for materials to steal her identity, she would watch them like a hawk to prey. She finally realized how susceptible we all are. Once your trash cans are placed on the street for pickup, you are a sitting duck. Do you want to be a sitting duck? Betty like ducks but after an incident in which a stealthy thief stole her outgoing mail and cashed a $5,000 check made out to her credit card company, (I guess his name was Chase), she was pretty sure that she never wanted to be a duck again. Below are Betty's 10 steps to not become a duck. Take from it what you will.

1. Never put outgoing mail in your mailbox. Betty knows it is a pain to go to the post office or to find a blue USPS Drop Box, but the effort will be worth it. There is not much that can be done about incoming mail, less getting a costly PO Box, but embrace the power you do have!

2. Invest in a shredder. Betty purchased an $11 top shredder that fits over her garbage can. It was placed next to her front door, so when she comes in after checking the mail, she immediately shreds anything and everything with her name and information. It is small and petite, just like her! If any of your information is on paper, it should be shredded, like credit card applications and pre-approvals, old credit cards, bills and statements with account numbers, and useless mail from solicitors. If it has your name on it, shred it!

3. Don’t keep sensitive information on your computer. If you are ridiculously organized like Betty and want to type up logs of accounts, vendors, etc., do not save it to your computer. Save it directly to a CD and not to your computer's hard drive or desktop. Once it is on the CD, put it someplace safe, like within a stack of cookbooks or in a "dummy" box of instant powdered milk. Remember, if burglars decide to ransack your house, you don’t want them to find this information. It is okay if they take your TV and stereo, as long as they don’t take your identity!

4. Check your credit report every four months.
You get three free credit reports each year, one from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, so spread them out. You can go to AnnualCreditReport.com to do all the hard lifting. Just fill in the appropriate information and choose which report you would like. These personal credit checks do not have a negative impact on your credit score. If you do not believe Betty, read the disclosures yourself or check with your financial planner or accountant. You will receive the reports in minutes. If you want to print it, download it directly to a CD and not to your hard drive or desktop. Check the report thoroughly. Are there any credit cards or credit accounts in your name that you did not know about? If so, grab your “boxing gloves” from under the bed and your “patience” from your bathroom's medicine cabinet, because you are going to need them! Good Luck!

5. Don't spill the beans. Please make sure you don't share passwords or account pin numbers with anyone. Betty understands that some people can be trusted, but those people may have people who you cannot trust. Passwords and pin numbers make it easy for untrustworthy people to access your inner duck, and in turn, steal your money or identity.

6. Keep a lookout for looky-loos. Any time you are out in public using your ATM or Credit Card, be aware of your surroundings by making sure that looky-loos or rubber-neckers are not hovering over your shoulder. That looky-loo could be a thief laying in wait for your bank account pin number or to get a glance at your credit card number. If someone is hovering, go into super spy stealth mode. Evade, maneuver, retreat!

7. Leave your full identity at home. Never carry your life in your wallet. It is necessary to have a driver's license with you, but you should leave your social security card at home, in a safe place. If you were to ever loose your wallet or to get mugged, you are done. Your Driver's License in conjunction with your Social Security Number is a thief's jackpot. If this happens, consider your life hacked!

8. Cash is key. Here's the thing, any time you use your credit card, whether in person or online, you are opening yourself up to a possible scenario of identity theft. Your credit card number can run through multiple hands, such as the restaurant wait staff, nightclub bartenders or department store clerks. Are they all honest, upstanding citizens? Betty does not know and neither do you. She understands that we live in a digital age where technology is so advanced that we can click a button on the computer and that book, dvd or refrigerator is delivered right to our front door. Computer hackers are everywhere and nothing and no one is hack-proof. If you do not need to use your credit card, then don't. Cash is key and no one can steal your identity when you are paying in cash.

9. Just say no to phone solicitors. Okay, this should go without saying, but just in case, here it is: Do not EVER give out personal information over the phone to solicitors. If some schmuck calls you, either asking for a donation or saying they are from your bank or credit card company and need to verify your information including name, credit card number, bank account, social security, etc., just say NO! Your bank and credit card company already have your information. Legitimate companies do not ask for private information over the phone. Yes, there are legitimate solicitors from charities asking for donations, and if you are feeling in the charitable mood, then do your research before giving them your hard earned money. Look the charity up online. Make sure they have the appropriate 501(c) 3 nonprofit status then right them a check. NEVER NEVER give away personal information over the phone!

10. Moving means updating. If you are going to move, you should call each of your creditors to give them your updated address. The last thing you want is your credit card statements being sent to the wrong address. Betty knows that this can be a major pain in the ass, but it must be done to protect yourself. It is great that you forwarded your mail, but mistakes at the Postal Service tend to happen (more often then not. No offense Postal people).

Well Misfits, this is a good manual to follow. Remember, you don't look like a duck, you don't quack like a duck, so make sure you don't act like a duck!



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