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Posted: March 21, 2005

Practical Caregiving

How to Minimize the Risk of Identity and Credit Theft

Fifty years ago when someone stole our purse or wallet, they were usually looking for cash. That isn?t the case today. Most of us carry only a minimum amount of cash because we use credit or debit cards. That?s why our personal information is at risk. That?s how a thief gets our money.

Let?s face it. If every thief was caught and put in jail, identity theft would not be a danger. But that just doesn?t happen. That?s why we need to protect ourselves and do a better job of watching things. And you should remember that our elderly loved ones and busy caregivers are very vulnerable.

While we all try to protect our personal information, there are usually areas we miss because we don?t think about them. Let?s look at the things we should do in today?s world.

In our everyday life:

  1. What should be in your purse of wallet? Don?t carry your Social Security card and make sure your driver?s license has a different number. If you have a photo on your card, consider writing ?check photo ID? on the back of the card instead of signing it. Don?t carry any card that you don?t need and preferably not more than one or two credit cards at a time.
  2. Make copies of all credit/debit cards and place the photocopy in a safe place.
  3. Check all your bills and statements to make sure the charges are legitimate. Check your credit report annually to spot anything that is incorrect.
  4. Consider getting a locked mailbox at home. Take any outgoing mail to the post office so it doesn?t sit in your mailbox, and retrieve incoming mail as soon as you can after it is delivered.
  5. Remove anything from your car glove box or under the seat that has your identifying information on it.
  6. Buy a paper shredder and use it on all papers that have your personal information on them -- including credit card offers.
  7. Reduce the number of pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-888-5OPT OUT (1-888-567-8688). They will ask for your Social Security number for verificatin.

On the Internet:

  1. Don?t store personal or financial information on your computer. If you find you need to, use a very complicated password with a combination of alternating letters and numbers.
  2. Change your passwords often and don?t set your system to remember any password. Try to remember your passwords instead of writing them down.
  3. Do not open attachments on files from someone you do not know or trust. Don?t click on hyperlinks you question in emails.
  4. Be careful about using file-sharing programs. It?s very easy to get a virus or spyware when you use these programs.
  5. Be careful about using wireless Internet connection networks (Wi-Fi). There are special precautions needed for security, and it?s fairly easy for someone to hack into your computer this way.
  6. Beware of ?Phishing.? This is when a computer hacker goes fishing on the Internet. They want to hook you into giving them your personal information. They may pretend to be your bank or other business you deal with, and ask you to give them your information for verification purposes.
  7. When you use another person's computer, whether it is a friend or business associate, be careful not to send your personal information over the Internet. The information of every place you go on the Internet is stored in something called a cache (a folder area) on the computer. That person whose computer it is may be honest, but someone else who uses that computer may not be honest.
  8. Make sure the Internet site is secure when you do send personal information over the Web. The URL will include an ?s? in the address before or after the http, as in the secure signup page for our Caregiver?s Home Companion newsletter -- https://www.caregivershome.com/subscriptions/newsubscriptions.cfm.
  9. When you discard a computer, delete all personal information. Next purchase and use a program that wipes the area of the hard drive that you cannot do yourself. These programs overwrite the information you deleted.

Finally, a word about you ? all of us really. We are the weakest link in the area of security. All it takes is a personal lapse and someone can get our information. Be careful at all times. Don?t give any personal information over the phone or the Internet when someone you don?t know or trust contacts you. Be careful when you are in a store. Watch for someone looking over your shoulder or listening to you.

Now, what should you do if you think you are a victim of identity theft?

  1. Place a fraud alert with each of the three major credit bureaus by telling them you think your identity has been stolen. Tell them that no new credit is to be granted without your approval.

  2. Close all accounts you believe or know were tampered with or opened fraudulently. There is an ID Theft Affidavit to use when disputing new unauthorized accounts. An attorney may be needed to help with this. Here are the major firms:
    Equifax 1-800-685-111 or 1-800-525-6285
    Experian 1-888-397-3742
    TransUnion 1-800-888-4213 or 1-800-680-7289

  3. Do your research. Contact each company directly that you think may have been used against you and explain your situation. Look at your account for anything that isn?t yours.

  4. File a police report for everything you find that is not your purchase.

  5. Keep complete records and document every company, transaction, date you talked to them or wrote them, names of people you talked to, the amount of time you spent doing this and any lost time at work. When you send something in the mail, always send it certified mail with a return receipt request. It needs to get to that business within 60 days of the time they send you a bill with incorrect charges or you may have to pay the whole thing.

  6. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338). They can assist you by providing information to help you resolve the problems. Contact your post office, Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service if you find evidence that the thief has used them.

  7. You also may need legal help to correct the problems.

(For more information see last week?s column on this topic.)

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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