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Identity Theft

NINE TARGET AREAS FOR IDENTITY THEFT                                           Updated 02/26/2016


  1. Valet Key vs. Car Key
    When you turn over keys to someone that you do not personally know well, give them the valet key and lock your glove box.  Your glove box and trunk often contain personal or confidential information about you and/or your family.  The valet key is NOT supposed to unlock the trunk or glove box.  Test your valet key for some peace of mind. 

Trash vs. Shred vs. Secure Erase vs. Crush

Smart people shred bills and other items containing information regarding:
   - where you keep your money,
   - where you spend your money, and
   - how you pay for things (bank statements, credit card statements or receipts, etc.). 

Unwanted credit offers should be shred to avoid the document being used by someone else. 

Documents with names, Account Numbers, Social Security Numbers, date of birth, Prescription Numbers or Medication Names, Phone Numbers and the like should be shred.

Consider unwanted credit cards, CD, DVD or BluRay disks for shredding.  When in doubt, insure all content has been securely backed up or that it is all no longer relevant or of material worth even when involving legal claims or disputes.

If you do not have a shredder, look for free shredding events often sponsored by a city, bank or the shredding company itself.  Some events are regular events every 3 to 6 months.

If you decide to buy a shredder, obtain a “cross cut” machine that cuts the strips into smaller pieces thus making assembly of the shredded items more time consuming.  More expensive some models can shred your credit cards and CD, DVD or BluRay disks where personal information may also be stored like e-mails, photographs, images of account statements, etc.
Before recycling or giving away a computer (or other "smart device" such as tablets, pads, and others that contain personal information), use a seven (7) pass random written pattern erasure program to insure all the data has been removed fully.  A minimum of three passes of writing information in random patterns across the entire disk but it is highly recommended to use a 7 pass random pattern write providing greater protection making it nearly impossible to reconstruct the data.  Diskettes, hard disk within and external to a computer can contain very sensitive information along with optical disk, solid state disk and "thumb drives".  If you cannot fully and securely erase a disk of any type, look for companies that can physically crush your disk in your presence.  Multi-pass erasure with random pattern writes software is available on some PC firewall packages as part of the software you purchase. 

Who are you anyway?

Any telephone call, e-mail you receive or window on your computer that requests conformation of your personal information including verification of who you are is most likely an effort to steal your personal information.  Do not trust Caller ID information as that can be false.  Ask what company or government agency they are representing then end your involvement with the caller, e-mail or window.  On a computer or "other smart" devices, do not enter any code they provide for entry into a web site they identify as this will potentially give them complete control of your computer.   Most government agencies will only send initial and often subsequent official communications via the US Mail.  Call the company or agency using the phone number on your credit card, on your statement or from the telephone book.  Inform them of what you have experienced.  In nearly all cases, you will find this was an attempt to steal your information from you.  The recent trend to impersonate a government or law enforcement official scares people into compliance and is often more difficult to verify if the call was legitimate and the “bad people” know that and that is why they are using it.

 Know your Guests

Know whom you are letting into your "residence" (home, apartment, trailer, dorm room, etc.)  Friends of friends or roommates are a growing group of information gathers who will look for items that could be easily stolen or confidential information you left lying around (including unopened mail) for a future or quick theft leaving you in a bad place.  Even if not "stolen" by them, inappropriate or unlawful disclosure of your confidential information can result in loss by unethical individuals including placing liability for the disclosure on you.  Never allow anyone you do not personally know to have time alone in your "residence" unsupervised.  Always secure such material in advance of having a group of people over specially where they may venture into other areas of the "residence" even if it is an adjoining room.  Avoid answering any landline phone calls during their visit as these calls may have prearranged to distract you. 

 Privacy Policies that DO NOT Protect You

Knowing the Privacy Policy of companies you do business with is important but have you ever looked at the Privacy Policies of your Internet Service Provider, e-mail Service, computer software products (PC, MAC, or the many portable devices that you often and freely provide personal information to)?  Even sharing whom you know allows groups to build a profile on who you are.  Carefully read Privacy Policies to see whom they allow access to your information and what these companies have to do to gain access.  In some cases it can be as easy as paying the company you are providing your information to some money.  Beware claims of access provided for research purposes as this is vague and can be research into finding detailed information on you that you would not otherwise share.  The question comes back to who can you trust and how do you know they and their partners/affiliates are trustworthy?  If the trust is not there, minimize information provided.  You can also test, where legal, the trust by submitting information on non-existent individuals and see what solicitations arrive under that name, e-mail address, etc.


Credit Score Reviews

Stay alert to information you receive that indicates a change in your Credit Score, address change, new account you did not request or welcome letters you were not expecting.  These are some of the warning signs of identity theft.  A free Credit Report is available annually.

Money Saving Tip:
On a rotating basis within a year, request one report every four months from one of the three free credit-reporting bureaus for better updates at no extra cost.  You can only request one report from each credit-reporting bureau per year but you do no have to request them all at once.  Some services now provide free access to your reports "upon request".

      Inactive Credit Cards

              The Bad Guys can pop-up anywhere.  One concern is someone who gets access or can get
                information from financial institutions.  One incident appears to have involved The Bad
                Guys calling the financial institution BEFORE the e-mail notice of potential fraud went out.
                When the card holder called the financial institution they mentioned about the first call
                that day made to the financial institution which tiggered alarm bells.  The unfortunate card
                holder now had to validate their identity to the satisfaction of the financial institution.

                If you are not going to use credit cards for some period of time, call the financial institution
                about suspending the account and request a "password" be associated to take any action
                on this account.  This creates an additional layer of security for you and can the cards can
                be reactivated within a few minutes.  Just don't forget your password!  A few simple steps
                that are not advertised as being available can save a whole lot of trouble for you.

                IF you are a victim, recommendations include first contacting the financial institution to
                stop the losses then file an Identity Theft report at  This simple report will
                put an Alert on your Credit Report which will be forwarded to the other two Credit Reporting
                Companies automatically (Equifax and Transunion).   It can be beneficial to alert all of the
                financial companies (Banks, Savings & Loans, Investment Companies, Credit Card Companies)
                about what has happened and request additional monitoring or added safeguards to
                protect you AND THEM from fraud.    Sometimes The Bad Guys get luck but that doesn't
                mean you have to roll over and not fight back!  

      Large Charges Alerts/Notices

              Possibly originally intended to help make people aware of their charges, you can
              for many credit cards, setup via the Internet an automatic text alert for amounts
              charged which are above a defined threshold amount.  For many, this amount
              can be as little as $10.00.  Whether it's credit or identity thieves or some crook
              ringing up something for you, the potential to create an additional transaction
              to enrich themselves exists.  Often you will receive notification of the charge
              BEFORE you leave the establishment.  Never confront the person yourself who
              may have committed the apparent crime.  Seek out a manager and call the local
              law enforcement.  Amounts over $50.00 is potentially a felony and you have
              evidence on your cell phone text.  And of course report it to your credit card


As time passes, new technology brings to us additional means and places where we store personal, financial or sensitive information whether it resides on our desk, our head, our hand or in the Cloud.  New technology also brings new opportunities for those seeking to steal what we need to keep secure from theft in any form..  Time also allows thieves to become more creative in their tactics against you.  This is not an all-inclusive list as over time tactics used to take things from you will evolve and expand.

Never consider your questions about how something is kept secure as being impolite, bad social conduct, or inappropriate.  Every question asked should be fully, accurately and honestly responded to until you are satisfied.  Asking other sources the same question is a smart business practice.  It is, after all, your stuff that is at potential risk and you who will suffer any loss of information, monetary or physical items.