Protect Your Identity from ID Thieves

Staff Writer @ Lucid Living

To reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, security experts advise:

Secure your mail. Don’t put mail containing checks, credit card numbers or other personal information in your mail box. Don’t leave your mailbox unattended, if you’re on the road. Your mail can be a treasure trove for thieves. Drop your mail at the post office instead.

Check your accounts regularly for suspicious activity. Go online frequently to look at your bank and credit card accounts, and make sure every transaction is yours.

Check your credit report for suspicious activity. Unauthorized enquiries should set of alarm bells – it means that someone other than yourself is applying for credit on your name.

If you get a call or email from someone claiming to be a bank or credit card representative, or a government agency, don’t provide personal information over the phone or via email. And don’t call back the phone number or email provided by the caller. That’s a common ploy by ID thieves to capture personal information. Instead, call the customer service number on the back of your credit card or bank card, or independently contact the company or agency for information about your account.

Weed out your purse or wallet. Don’t carry unneeded credit cards or other personal information. And make copies of all important documents — such as your passport, driver’s license, medical aid card — so you’ll have access to the information if your wallet is stolen. Also keep with you a list of contact numbers for your credit card company and bank, so it will be easy to call if your wallet is stolen.

Beware of ATMs. Banks have been reporting an increase in skimming incidents at ATMs, where thieves install a card reader in an ATM to capture account information and PIN numbers. Stick with bank ATMs at a branch to be safe.

Be careful with public computers. Don’t access your accounts or personal information on public computers, such as those at a hotel and internet café’, which could have software that logs keystrokes and records your passwords and account numbers. Be very careful when using an unsecure wireless network.

Keep close tabs on personal information on paper, and on public forums online. Don’t leave personal information lying around in a hotel room, for instance, and don’t post personal information on Facebook or MySpace accounts.

Be smart about that smartphone. Use the PIN or password feature of your smartphone to keep personal information safe, in case it’s lost or stolen. Safeguard your laptop computer, too, for the same reasons. Most phones offer a basic lockdown feature that blocks anyone from using the phone without knowing the PIN number or password. Some Android phones even allow you to set up a pattern – like an X – you draw on the touch screen to unlock the phone and access its data.

Beware free and/or strange phone apps. Google recently yanked 21 free popular apps from the Android market because they secretly stole available data on users’ smart phones and allowed more malware to be downloaded.

Avoid cheques. Similarly, avoid writing cheques, which have a lot of personal information on them, said former thief Frank Abagnale, author of the book “Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan” and subject of the book and movie “Catch Me If You Can.” Cheques might include your name, address, phone number, bank name, bank account number, electronic routing number and signature.

Use a special pen when writing cheques to avoid “cheque washing” fraud, which involves a thief using chemicals to remove ink from a stolen cheque and make it payable to himself. An example of a commonly available anti-fraud pen is the Uni-ball 207, which costs about R25.