What you can do to prevent identity theft in 2012

The Identity Theft Research Center (ITRC) has come up with 10 guidelines to help keep your personal data secure in 2012.  I’ll get to that shortly but first you should know that I worked in the junk mail industry for 35 years selling your names and private information to companies that use it to target customers.  During this time I raised red flags over the lack of security for this massive dossier on almost every American household, basically falling on deaf ears. 
I won’t get into specifics on just what junk mailers, financial institutions, corporations, and the government gather in their quest to find out everything possible about every individual in the U.S.  Suffice it to say, there is almost nothing they don’t know about you and have at their fingertips to use at will.  You probably already know about all the secret data factors available on you, yet many Americans could care less about protecting it. 
The reason junk mailers refused to listen to warnings of loose data is that this is one of the most profitable profit centers in any business.  By my calculations, selling your name and personal data grosses the junk mail industry alone over $4 billion annually.  Marketing this information has a 60 percent profit margin.  But the reason you are apathetic about protecting your private information is that you think identity theft won’t happen to you.  And then it does. 
In 2011 there were 419 breaches of private information exposing 22,918,441 personal records.  If you weren’t included in 2011 you could be in 2012. 
I was amazed recently to read a question in the newspaper directed to a consumer advocate exclaiming their surprise at finding things like their name, address, age, etc. when Googling themselves on the Internet.  All of a sudden they were concerned over how to prevent this data from being released.  There is no way to stop the flow of private information, and this made me wonder under just what rock this individual has been living.
Zappos, an online company selling shoes, is one of the largest most recent breaches where hackers may have accessed some 24 million customer records this month.  These include names, mailing and billing addresses, phone numbers, truncated credit card numbers and “cryptographically scrambled” passwords.  The company says there is little risk to the credit card numbers but a combination of everything taken can lead the crooks right to your most personal information.
My advice to those customers breached is to access their credit card and bank accounts on a daily basis to make sure there are no suspicious charges.  Look for the small amounts around $6.00 since this is where they usually start, then, with success, go on to larger amounts.  We shop with Zappos, whose service is the best in the country, and now I am checking the account we used at least once every day.  If they have your data it won’t take long for them to use it. 

Now that you are reasonably fortified with facts and advice, let’s get down to those 10 resolutions that Identity ITRC suggests you make in 2012:

  1. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.  Best to put it in a safety deposit box but at least locked up at home.
  2. Never give out your SS number unless absolutely necessary.  You can even try to deny it in some financial and medical transactions unless it is required for service.
  3. Buy a good cross-cut shredder and use it on any document with SS#, birth date, medical numbers, etc.
  4. Order regular credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228, one from each of the three credit bureaus every four months.
  5. If you don’t already have a secure community mailbox, think about investing in one of your own, and take your outgoing mail to the post office.
  6. Don’t use the same password for all accounts, including bank accounts and change them regularly.
  7. Limit what you share online.  This has fallen on deaf hears recently as consumers give up their most private information just for convenience, like in Facebook.
  8. Know who you are buying from online.  Check them out through your local BBB and make sure they have a secure payment system.  Use a credit card instead of your debit card if possible.
  9. Monitor all you financial accounts regularly, particularly your bank account online if you use your debit card; I do mine twice daily.
  10. Protect your checks and deposit slips like gold; they’re flush with information like your account number, usually name and address.
If you have questions about any of these tips, go to Identity Theft Resource Center for help on answering any of your questions on ID theft.  ITRC is a non-profit and lives off contributions from the public so help them out if you can.

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