Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was in the news again this week, but the story had nothing to do with the economy or with Bernanke being reappointed as the chief of the Federal Reserve. It turns out that Bernanke was a victim in one of the fastest growing crimes in America: Identity Theft. Bernanke’s information was accessed when his wife’s purse was stolen at a coffee shop, providing thieves with the address, phone number, and checking account number of the Bernanke family. This was all the information necessary for an identity thief to take advantage of one of the nation’s top economic minds
Identity theft affected almost 10 million people in 2008, up 22% from a year earlier. The average victim pays $500 to correct the problems caused by identity theft. These crimes aren’t generally high-tech scams–they usually begin with a stolen wallet or mail containing personal information. Here are five tips to reduce your chances of becoming an identity theft victim.
– Shred Important Documents: For between $60 and $70, you can purchase a cross-cut type shredder that will destroy any documents containing your private information. Use a shredder to destroy anything that could be used against you by identity thieves, including junk mail like credit card applications. “Dumpster Diving” is a popular tactic used by identity thieves who are willing to dig through your garbage cans looking for your information. When in doubt, shred!
– Guard Your Personal Information: one of the most common ways that thieves get access to your bank account is through “shoulder surfing,” or looking over your shoulder as you enter your pin number when using an ATM or bank card. Most consumers enter their pin number multiple times each day and many are not careful about keeping that number hidden from those around them. In addition, get a locking mailbox if possible so mail thieves don’t have a chance to sift through your mail before you do.
– Cancel Old Credit Cards: If you haven’t used a credit card in six months or more, it probably makes sense to close the account. An open credit line is an easy way for an identity thief who has a little of your information to simply request a new card, using your information to verify the stolen identity. Also, don’t carry these rarely used credit cards or other documents like social security cards in your wallet.
– Use Common Sense: Many of the identity theft victims could have avoided the problem if they had used better judgment. Never write down PIN numbers or passwords to carry with you. If you receive a phone call, letter, or e-mail asking you to provide personal information be very suspicious and careful about what you disclose. With identity theft rising so rapidly, extra caution is in order for everyone.
Monitor Your Credit Report: You should check your credit report at least annually looking for anything that looks fraudulent or out of the ordinary. You can also pay a monthly fee to have your credit report monitored so that you’ll be notified anytime there is a red flag associated with your name. Catching identity theft early can go a long way in minimizing the damage it can cause.