Prevent Identity Theft: Protect Your Paper Files!

2/8/2005

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A recent Identity Fraud Survey Report, released by the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Strategy & Research, shows that people should not ignore the more traditional world when taking steps to protect their personal identity. The survey of 4,000 people revealed that, according to actual victims who know details about the crime, the most reported source of information used to commit identity fraud was a lost/stolen wallet, checkbook or credit card. Other common reported sources were friends/acquaintances/relatives or corrupt employees who had access to the information. Stolen paper mail or fraudulent change of addresses was also cited as a source for the stolen information.

All of these sources are “paper-based” rather than “cyberspaced.” The BBB encourages consumers, as well as business owners, to renew their focus on specific preventive measures that will help protect their identity in the physical, paper-filled world.

  • Protect Your Wallet, Purse and Checkbook. Look through your wallet or purse and ask yourself, "if a thief took possession of this, how could I restrict the damage that person could do?" Then act now to limit the amount of personal information you carry. Do not carry more credit cards than you absolutely need; do not carry PIN numbers or passwords in your purse or wallet; and avoid carrying your Social Security card. Men are advised to carry their wallet in their front pockets rather than their back pockets; women can carry a purse strap across their body or consider buying a purse with a steel cord inside the shoulder strap to prevent a thief from cutting through the strap.

  • Keep Highly Sensitive Financial Information Away From Spying Eyes: This includes family members, friends, relatives, neighbors and employees who perform work in your home. According to the survey, family and relatives, along with friends and domestic employees, account for more than 50 percent of all known identity thieves. You are vulnerable if you do not take steps to protect your personal information inside your home. Treat your information at home the way you would in more public settings: store your personal information under lock and key; don't leave passwords, keys and PIN numbers in plain sight; and, shred all documents containing personal information before discarding them.

  • Take A Close Look At Your Mailbox. Your mail – both incoming and outgoing -- is another vulnerability. According to the survey, eight percent of those who knew how their data was compromised attributed the fraud to their mail. If you cannot pick up your incoming mail as soon as it is delivered -- and you do not have a locked mailbox to protect it -- consider getting one. If you are mailing personal information (bills, checks, etc.), place them in a secure outgoing mailbox - not a box that anyone can open and access.

Taking personal responsibility for protecting your financial information and related paper files will help to improve your identity safety and protect against this type of fraud. Remember, an informed consumer is an empowered consumer, not just during National Consumer Protection Week, but throughout the year!

To read more about the findings from the 2005 Identity Fraud Survey Report, go to www.javelinstrategy.com/reports. For more information about identity theft from the Better Business Bureau, go to www.bbbonline.org/idtheft/index.asp.

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