Chapter 11 – Before Identity Theft Happens To You

Being prepared is a state of mind – not a motto.

To deal with Identity Theft after it happens, you should prepare before it happens. The last thing you should be doing is gathering information after you have a problem. As you work through this chapter, you will also be building a data bank on your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. And you will plug some holes in your Shield of Protection.

Here are seven basic steps to get you started. As each person’s employment, family and banking situations are different, use these steps to custom build a plan to protect you from vulnerabilities in those areas of your life.

(1) You need a GOOD Safe/Fire box or a bank safety deposit box.
The problem with a home Safe/Fire box is that other people with access to your home may have access to it if they have the combination or can find the key. It is also possible for a burglar to steal an unmounted safe and break into it later. (I actually was able to break into a cheap one I bought {about $20 in 1999} with a large screwdriver. It taught me just how worthless it was an anti-theft safe.) However, a bank safe deposit box has the problem of limited access hours. And, time is money if an event compromises your identity shield. A professionally installed wall or floor safe is one option, but it is the most expensive of the three. The decision of which to use is, like so many you will have to make, is a personal one. Regardless of what you elect to do, you must have an extremely safe place to store the most sensitive documents.

(2) Do a full inventory of all your credit and bank accounts.
Your credit report will help with this, but also know any investment accounts (stocks, bonds, 401k, savings, etc.) that you own. A chart is included in the book to assist you. Use this form to list all your accounts. This will be one of the most dangerous pieces of paper in the world if it gets in the wrong hands. It can also be the fastest way to respond to problems if or when they happen. This is why you need a very safe and secure place to keep it. As dangerous as this information is, not having access to it so that you can respond extremely fast, is just as bad. If your wallet is stolen, or your Identity Shield is compromised, you will need very fast access to this information. The ability to quickly notify any or all of your account holders in the event of a problem can save you $1,000s of dollars.

(3) Build a chart of your regular mail.
Use your past bills or checking account to build a list of when regular critical mail arrives. This list should include Credit Cards, Utility bills, any checks (retirement, child support, pension), Investment and Bank Statements, etc. By knowing when each of these items are mailed each month, you will instantly know when one does not arrive on time. This could be an early sign a thief has submitted a change of address with the sender or the post office. The sooner you respond, the sooner you control the damage.

(4) Change passwords on all accounts from Mother’s Maiden Name.
Customers are often asked to provide their Mother’s Maiden Name as a new account password, such as banking or credit cards. These passwords must be changed to unique words for each account.

If you have trouble remembering all the different ‘passwords’ for each account you can
(1) reduce the number of accounts you have;
(2) use one password for two or three accounts only and then use a different one for another set of two or three accounts;
(3) write down all of your passwords and keep them in your wallet so that if you need them, they are readily available. Ok, just joking, Number 3 is NOT recommended!!!!

Do not forget about PIN codes for Debit Cards or Credit Cards Cash Advance options. Do not make the mistake of using simple numbers like 1234, 5555, etc. Also avoid birthdays, phone numbers or other easy to identify numbers. If you have multiple Debit / Cash Advance cards, avoid using the same PIN for each. You should change PINs and Passwords every couple of years.

(5) Review your mail procedures.
Use a Post Office Box, a Private Mailbox Service or a locking mailbox at your house for all incoming mail. And drop all outgoing mail at a Post Office, in a Postal Service Big Blue Box, hand it to a carrier, or deposit it at your Private Mailbox Service.

(6) Opt out of Pre-Approved Credit Offers
Are you annoyed with those daily Credit Card offers? One way to reduce the junk mail, cut down a source of fraud (those half completed forms) and reduce the times companies access your credit reports is to Opt-Out of these mailings. Call any one (or all three) credit bureaus at these special opt-out phone numbers:
Equifax: (800) 556-4711,
Experian: (800) 353-0809,
Trans Union: either (800) 241-2858 or (800) 680-7293
Not only can you protect your Identity you can help save a tree.

(7) Reconsider the businesses you do business with.
Why are the businesses you do business with important? A recent news article (out of Louisiana) reported that a Karate School wanted the father’s Social Security Number, Drivers License Number and home address. This would be in addition to any credit card or checking account information to be used for billing. Why does any legit non-financial business need this kind of information? If this kind of information is requested, it is strongly recommended that you not only not provide it, but you consider not even doing business with the company at all.

Okay, hopefully you completed the above seven steps. If you have not, go back and re-read the ones you skipped. If you are comfortable with not doing something, that is ok. Every person’s needs are different and you may not need one of these steps. In fact, you may need something very different. If you think of something unique for your situation, please do it. And tell us (http://www.7crimes.com) about it so we can recommend it to others.