Technology

9 tips to avoid identity theft

This crime happens every day, but these tips will help you avoid the hassle

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As a real estate agent, with all your blogs, websites, advertisements and social sites, identity theft means your basic personal identifying information (PII) is already out there for the world to see. Some of that PII is sensitive, and in the wrong hands could be used to commit identity theft.

If you think it can’t happen to you, you’re very mistaken. ID theft is a common crime, especially in this cyber age.

You might think you’re very careful with everything and that it’s thus impossible for anyone to obtain your information. For instance, maybe you never shop online. Maybe you’re not on social media. But what do you toss into the trash can?

Did you know that “dumpster divers” dig around in the garbage looking for sensitive information such as bank account records, credit card offers, credit card receipts and more?

Part of the problem with this crime is if someone opens a credit card account in your name, you might not know about it for months and then the damage is done. Victims usually find out because they are denied credit or bill collectors start calling. Thieves don’t pay the bills.

Think of all the places you’ve made purchases with a check, and they didn’t ask for a photo ID to verify your identity. An identity thief can have checks made up in your name after opening a bank account in your name and then buy a ton of things at stores that don’t ask for photo IDs.

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But ID theft can be a lot worse than just collections agencies hounding you. The thief can also do things such as deal drugs under your name. Then the thief gets arrested, posts bail and now there is a warrant for your arrest. This activity can significantly damage your brand.

What’s unnerving is that so many people have enough of your information to steal your identity because, as a real estate agent, you regularly “put yourself out there.”

But even beyond your profession, I bet that within the past week you’ve given your credit card number and that three-digit security number on the back of the card to someone over the phone to make a purchase. Do you realize that person could then make online purchases with just that information?

What can you do?

For starters, get your credit report pulled every six months to see if there’s anything on it that doesn’t belong there, such as a new account that you never opened or a company where you’ve never worked.

How to lessen the risk of ID theft happening to you

  1. Shred important documents before tossing in the trash.
  2. Check your credit reports twice annually; it’s free.
  3. If you have the type of mailbox that anyone could just traipse over to and open, don’t use it, and instead get a P.O. Box or a locking mailbox.
  4. Speaking of mail, if you haven’t gotten mail after several days, contact the post office; someone else might be receiving your mail after issuing a phony mail forwarding address.
  5. Keep tabs on when you’re supposed to receive new credit cards and checks.
  6. Immediately sign new credit cards; adopt a signature that you can replicate but that would be difficult to forge. Writing “See ID” is a false sense of security.
  7. Always inspect your credit card statements and bank statements for anything suspicious
  8. Don’t give out your Social Security number unless absolutely required. That said, you still will need to give it out often if you want various services.
  9. But if a department store won’t issue you a charge card without your Social Security number, don’t get the charge card. You don’t need it, do you? Getting 10 percent off a pair of shoes in exchange for the new card, and giving out all your sensitive PII is kind of silly.

Invest in identity theft protection and consider a credit freeze it’s your best form of protection.

Robert Siciliano is CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com and a personal security and identity theft expert.

Email Robert Siciliano.