In the 1960’s, a popular notion was the idea of “finding yourself.” These days, with the prevalence of identity theft, it’s safe to say that even if you are unable to find yourself, someone else might!
Consider the numbers. In our country with more than 300 million people, over a billion records containing personal information are leaked each year. With this fact in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that identity theft is the No. 1 consumer complaint received by the Federal Trade Commission. While the inconvenience from identity theft is bad enough, the potential financial losses and damage to your credit rating add insult to injury.
Although there are no ironclad guarantees, the good news is there are actions savvy shoppers can take to avoid becoming a victim:
• Social Security number: As your Social Security number is a linchpin for your identity, leave home without it. In other words, do not carry your Social Security card or number in your wallet. Even better, keep it in a secure spot in your home.
• Home: Outside of a home wireless network, your biggest potential vulnerability lies with the mail. Essentially, letters inside your mail box can be swiped and the correspondence you throw away can be a target for Dumpster divers looking for personal information. In addition to picking up mail as promptly as possible, be sure to shred or at least tear up documents with personal information before putting it in the trash. In addition, have the post office hold your mail when you go on out of town trips. To add an extra layer of privacy for your mailings, be sure to use security/privacy envelopes. These products have a special tinting on the inside that obscure the visibility of its contents.
• Online: On top of making sure your home network is secure, keeping your computer’s virus protection and firewall software up to date is essential. While an obvious thing to do, most neglect this. Also, strong passwords are all too rarely used. Interestingly, I recently found that the conventional wisdom about passwords is being rethought. Specifically, many are saying that it’s better to have a long password than it is to have a short, but complex one. For more information about this way of thinking, go to www.pivotpointsecurity.com/blog/password-strength-explained/.
To keep your online activities private, many use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to keep hackers from accessing their communications. While there are free services like ProtonVPN (https://account.protonvpn.com/signup), you typically have to pay for the services that have the best reputations. NordVPN (https://nordvpn.com/) and ExpressVPN (www.expressvpn.com/) are two of the better-regarded providers. As an added layer to keeping bad guys out of your business, the TOR web browser is widely considered to much more private than options like Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge. You can find out more at: www.torproject.org/download/.
• Shopping: When you enter a PIN number or pass code, shroud the keypad with your free hand to keep others from being able to decipher what you entered.
• Income taxes: Income tax fraud, where another person files for a refund using your identity, is rising rapidly. If this occurs, there is a lot of paperwork to file and any refund you are due gets significantly delayed. The best tactic to avoid this is to file your taxes as early as possible.
• Review: Periodically check your financial records for suspicious transactions by going to www.annualcreditreport.com for a free credit report that you can review for any unusual or fraudulent activity. Where other websites charge for the privilege, this is an authorized online source for a free credit report. By law, you are entitled to a free report from each of the three national credit reporting companies once a year. If you are old school, you can call 877-322-8228 or complete a form at www.annualcreditreport.com/manualRequestForm.action and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Even better, there is a website called https://www.creditkarma.com/ where you can get a free credit report any time.
• If you become a victim: Despite our best efforts, problems can still happen. If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, go to www.usa.gov/identity-theft and click on the link “Report Identity Theft” for helpful guidance on dealing with this issue.
On top of avoiding potential headaches, protecting your identity helps secure against financial loss and keep your credit rating as high as possible. In other words, it’s savvy! To find out more about protecting your identity, you can go to www.consumer.gov/scams and https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft.
If you have tips to share, the Savvy Shopping community would love to hear your ideas. Please visit and “Like” our Facebook site (Click www.facebook.com/LubbockSavvyShopper or log on to Facebook and enter “Lubbock Savvy Shopper” in the search tool) or write us at [email protected] and let us know your thoughts.
Also, to stay abreast of developments, follow us on Twitter to get updates: twitter.com/LbbSavvyShopper. We have a great group you will want to be a part of. Don’t miss out!
SEAN FIELDS is the A-J’s Savvy Shopper. Read his columns Sundays and Wednesdays. Email him at [email protected], like his Facebook page at Facebook.com/LubbockSavvyShopper, or see previous columns and deals at lubbockonline.com/savvy-shopper.