Prevent Identity Theft

What is Your Risk of Identity Theft?

Hacker gloves opening laptop on office desk
Getty Images/John Lund

A recent ID Experts article is a shining example of a company on top of the issues of identity theft and data breach. Along with some commentary on a couple of much-needed laws, they point out that the best way to determine your risk of identity theft (called a “risk assessment”) requires you to know what information can cause damage, and how much damage it can cause. This is the information to protect if you want to prevent identity theft.

Keep in mind that it is impossible to prevent identity theft, because we do not control what happens to this information once we give it out. 

Critical Data

When looking at your risk of identity theft, pay close attention to information that can be used directly by an identity thief to compromise your current accounts, create new accounts, or impersonate you to get additional forms of identification or employment.

This information should be kept under a watchful eye, lock and key if possible. If you have to give this information out, make sure to get a copy of the privacy policy for the company you give it to. (Don’t expect your pizza delivery girl to know what you’re talking about, though.)

Personally, to help prevent identity theft, I carry two wallets.

One wallet has a couple of dummy credit cards that came in the mail, some pictures I cut out of cardboard fliers, and a few dollars cash. You may have never been robbed, but if you are, this is the wallet you would give to a thief. In my second wallet, which is really just a leather business card holder, I keep my driver’s license, a bank card, and my car insurance information.

Anything else is stored in a safe unless I need it.

Harmful Data

Other information to protect can be used by an identity thief to help them get critical data about you. Private investigators can tell you the best way to find out about someone is to look at their habits. Identity thieves can use the same tactics and have in the past.

  • Pets RFID Number
  • Utility Account Numbers (gas, water, etc.)
  • History of Residence
  • Unsolicited Credit Offers

This information can be safeguarded by using a shredder at home. Do not put outgoing mail anywhere that is not protected by a lock, including your mailbox. Dropping it off of the post office is your safest bet.

Some people don’t realize how easy it is to get personal information from a seemingly innocent places like any pets RFID tag. Reading this information, an identity thief could pose as an animal shelter, contact your vet, and locate your residence – or more.

Public Data

This information is available to anybody who cares to look. Identity thieves can use public data to locate harmful and critical information. If an identity thief does use public data, chances are extremely high that they know you personally. Even if you protect your information, chances are good you would not protect it from this person.

  • Vehicle ID Number
  • License Plate
  • Address
  • Telephone Number
  • Social Media
  • E-mail Address
  • Employer
  • Doctors and Medical Provider

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but it will help get your mind moving in the right direction. Public records maintained by the government such as property deeds, court filings, and driving records often have far more information about us than we care to admit.

The problem with public data is that you cannot control it at all. That’s why it’s called public. And identity thieves are getting more and more creative when it comes to using public information to find victims.

A quick note on social media: be careful what you post on your Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn profiles. As we get more connected, we give more people opportunity to know where we are, what we like to do, and what our spending habits are.

As more people are aware of identity theft, it’s easy to see the time down the road when we will all have some kind of identity protection program, just like we all have anti-virus software on our computers. And just like anti-virus software, we will pay for it gladly, rather than risk the headache of becoming an identity theft victim.

We still expect the government to protect us, and insist that businesses protect our personal information if they are going to collect it. Unfortunately, if an identity thief wants to get your information, chances are extremely good they will be successful.