Editor’s note: Continuing with Financial Literacy Month, Mary Hiland offers tips on what she does as a blind person and informed consumer to protect her identity.
Preventing Identity Theft, An Impossible Mission?
Preventing identity theft seems to be an impossible mission because the thieves, i.e. hackers, are a whole lot smarter than I am. But here are my attempts at protecting my financial identity:
Check on Your Accounts Daily
Because many websites are not blind-friendly, I use a toll-free number to review my transactions on my credit card. Each day that I’ve been out and about, swiping my credit card around, I use that toll-free number to make sure that the numbers they show are the numbers I recall spending that day. For instance, when I hand my card to a server, and she whisks it away to the desk or wherever she goes with it, I can’t be sure she hasn’t swiped my number into her own pocket first. It’s awful to think that way, but I’ve heard that letting your card get out of your sight is risky. Since it is always out of my sight, I need to take extra precautions. Each morning, as I sit and have my tea and listen to the newspaper on the phone, via Newsline, I make it part of my routine to call my credit card to make sure somebody else hasn’t charged something on it, and then I call the automated service from my bank. In this way, I can also keep track of which checks have cleared and what my balance should be. I’m sure you can do the same thing on line, but the telephone is much easier for me.
Doing this diligently has paid off for me. Just recently, I discovered that two fraudulent transactions had been made on my Visa card. I immediately called the fraud department. I was not charged for those two transactions, but had to do without my Visa card for at least a week. I asked the fraud consultant what I should do to protect myself from this, since it has happened twice within a year, but she said there is nothing I could have done. Scanners can be embedded anywhere to copy your card, which is what happened this time. Those purchases were made in an entirely different city at two places of business I do not patronize, which was pretty stupid of those thieves. The only thing I could have done, which is what I did, was to check my account every single day.
- I try to collect my mail from my mailbox as soon as it has been delivered.
- If I’m going to be out of town for more than a day, I have the post office hold my mail until I return.
- I shred any bills that come in or anything that has personal information on it, such as any correspondence from Social Security.
- I have learned the hard way not to let someone fill out my check that is payable to them. If I need to pay a person with a check, I ask someone else to fill it out for me. There are check-writing and signature guides, which also solve this problem, but my handwriting is not very good and I don’t use them a great deal.
- In those occasions when I need to fill out a form in an office, such as a doctor’s office, I am careful to dictate my information to my helper in a private place, so that others in the waiting room can’t hear it.
- Often, when I make a purchase at a store, I am asked for my email address. I always refuse, because it is not a requirement to complete the purchase. Giving my email address to a store has proven to be just another way that hackers can get to your identity.
- If you plan to lock your purse in a vehicle when going shopping or hiking, do it at home, not when you get to the parking lot where you are going to leave it. Thieves can observe you putting it into your trunk and then break in after you have left the parking lot.
- When I’m using a credit card in a store, I keep it well protected inside my wallet until it’s time to present it. I used to hold it in my hand, so I’d be ready, but I’ve heard that thieves can actually steal your card number from several feet away. I purchased a little metal-lined card carrier for even more protection.
- When packing my suitcase for a trip, I always attach my luggage tag with my name and number, in case it gets lost, but I never leave anything inside that could give a thief some personal information, such as a bill or medical form.
- Another travel tip, is to separate your hotel key from the paper holder which has the room number on it. That way, if you lose your key, no one will know your rooom number.
All this sounds a little paranoid, but it’s the way of the world these days.
Please comment what do you do to protect your identity