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Seven Signs You’re At-Risk for Identity Theft


I know what you’re thinking: “I’m young, I’m Web-savvy, I don’t need to worry about identity theft.” Street smarts alone may not protect you from every identity theft trap; this stuff can happen to anybody! What follows are seven signs that you may be at-risk.

Note: Next week, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Council of Better Business Bureaus will promote “National Protect Your Identity Week”. This article kicks off a four-part series on Money Under 30 featuring simple steps you can take to protect your most precious virtual asset—your identity!

The Seven Signs

1. I use an easy-to-remember password or the same username and password for multiple Websites.

Identity thieves can capture your information in myriad ways. Increasingly, thieves steal your ID online via malware they secretly install on your computer. That’s why it’s critical to use passwords that are hard to guess (especially for any financial Websites) and to never use the same password for more than one critical account. Never use your address, birthday, relative’s names, or any other easy-to-guess password. If you’re using the same password or easy-to-remember passwords, change them today!

2. I have sent e-mails containing financial information or one of my usernames or passwords.

E-mail is not secure. It’s safe to assume that somebody else could read anything you send over e-mail (on a personal or work account). Hackers can break into e-mail accounts and even intercept e-mails in transmission. That’s why you should never e-mail financial passwords or other details (even to yourself). There is precious little privacy with e-mail.

3. It’s been more than three months since I checked my own credit reports.

Sophisticated identity thieves don’t just steal credit card numbers and make purchases; they actually open up new loans using stolen credit profiles. If this happens, thieves can rack up tens of thousands of dollars of charges in your name. (And guess what: They’re not going to pay them back!) The only way to detect and stop this kind of identity theft is to monitor your own credit report regularly. You can either pay for an identity theft protection service to do this or you can check your credit for free every few months.

4. I carry my social security number in my wallet.

Your social security number is the “gateway” to your identity and your credit. Without it, thieves will have a hard time establishing credit in your name. If they get it, however, you just wrote them a blank check. Never carry your social security card in your wallet, and make sure other cards you carry (like a student ID, driver’s license, or health insurance card) do not contain your social security number. Only give this number out when absolutely necessary.

5. If my bank called or e-mailed me, I would feel comfortable sharing information with them about my accounts.

Your banks will never ask for identifying information like your password or account number when they call or e-mail you. Never. They already have this information. They may ask for other information like your name, but if somebody is asking for account numbers or passwords via e-mail or phone, it’s not your bank. Identity thieves are pretty clever, and can create e-mails and 800 numbers that may appear to be your bank. Never ever give out this information to somebody who calls or e-mails.

6. I pay my credit cards automatically and rarely review my monthly statements.

Paperless statements and online bill-pay makes it possible to almost forget about our monthly bills. Just because you don’t get credit card statements in the mail, however, does not mean you shouldn’t check them! Always review your credit card statements every month and be on the lookout for charges you don’t think you made. Report them to your card company immediately.

Check your bank account details at least once a week. Although you have 60 days to report fraudulent credit card transactions to avoid liability, you may only have seven days to report fraudulent debit card transactions. If you don’t, you may end up losing any money the thieves took.

7. I keep my checkbook, bank statements, or debit card PIN somewhere others could find them.

Last but not least, do not keep sensitive documents in accessible locations. If possible, destroy any written documentation of your debit card PIN (that’s one to commit to memory). Secondly, guard your checkbooks! Each check contains your bank account and routing numbers—all an identity thief needs to set up an electronic transfer of funds out of your account and into his.

For more on protecting yourself from identity theft, check out ProtectYourIDNow.org, a non-profit Website featuring lots of useful resources. And, don’t forget to check back later this week for parts 2-4 of this series on protecting yourself from identity theft.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. I’m guilty when it comes to passwords. Can you suggest any way to keep all of your login names and passwords straight and still secure and easily accessible?

    On the one hand if I keep passwords the same/similar I can memorize them. However, if I create different passwords for each account I need to write them down to remember them, which is risky as well. Any suggestions as to the best way to approach this?

  2. David Weliver says:

    A definite catch-22, WM. What I’ve do is I keep a small notepad with my various usernames and passwords, but next to each set I write down a code word for what site it is for—not the actual name of the Website or company. Something I’ll remember but others couldn’t guess easily.

    I keep the notebook in my desk at home and rarely move it, so somebody would really have to know what they were after to steal it.

    And if my little “password book” ever fell into the wrong hands, they’d still have to do some detective work to figure out which sites the passwords are for.

    Not perfect, but one answer.

    Another solution is password manager software which lets you keep all of your passwords secure with just one password you can remember. KeePass is a free open-source program that does just that.

  3. One technique I have is writing a code for the website and then an incomplete password, but say a (non obvious) number string that is missing the middle numbers, or a set of random works and numbers that only I would be able to solve due to it being relevant to my life. Sort of like setting up a crossword puzzle for those days when you just can’t remember anything.

  4. I do the same technique as James — writing an incomplete password or a very specific-to-me hint that only I know.

    Much like a crossword puzzle, it helps me remember what it is supposed to be, without giving it away.

    But we should also be careful about our electronics such as our cellphones and GPS devices, making sure that we don’t label our exact address as “Home”, but perhaps entering a public location nearby instead that will help bring us all the way home after we reach it.

  5. Thanks for the post, Dave. It always struck me as amazing how many people at the old office had their passwords set as “password” or “admin” years after starting work. While not a personal finance issue, I wondered if it weren’t indicative of poor habits elsewhere!

  6. I’ll admit that I’m guilty when it comes to passwords as well. so had to remember multiple passwords. and i’m not sure how much i trust password keeping systems like “keychain” on macs.