by Nikki Willhite
A few years ago someone got hold of our bank account number. The next year one
of our credit cards was compromised. Fraud and identity theft are on the rise.
If it hasn't come your way, you are lucky. Most of the time, when someone gets
hold of your private financial information, it is sheer bad luck. Your financial
information is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Although the problem is worsening, there are some things you can do to lessen
your risk of being a victim, and to make it less painful if it happens.
The first thing you need to do, in case it happens, is to spread out your money.
If someone wipes out your bank account, that that is where all your money is,
you may be left without funds for several days to several weeks. Keep your money
in at least two different banks or credit unions so in case something does
happens you have access to some money.
One of the first things you need to do to protect your personal information is
to install a quality locking mailbox. Even if you don't put mail at the curb to
be picked up, banks and credit card companies often send you blank checks. Other
mail also comes to you with sensitive information. Never put mail at the curb
and put up a red flag. You may as well say "Come and get me" if the wrong person
goes down your street.
My son has a locking mailbox and someone still managed to get their hand (or
something else) down it and get their mail. Mailboxes are targets. Get a good
one. Your mailbox should have a steel post. A steel post prevents criminals from
knocking down the box or removing it from the post.
Another thing to do to prepare for financial theft is to keep all your financial
papers together in a secure place in your home. Keep a notebook or list of all
your accounts and the numbers to call to clear up problems.
Keep sensitive information out of sight in your home. Password protect your
computer. If you have a laptop and a desktop computer, use a software program
that will erase the hard drive on your laptop if it is stolen. Our neighbors
were recently burglarized while they were in their bedroom at night. Someone
crawled through a window into their home and took their laptop. They were able
to remotely erase the hard drive.
Lock your smart phone. It has a wealth information that could be used to access
your financial records.
If you can afford it, subscribe to a good credit monitoring service that will
notify you of suspicious activity on your credit cards. If you can't do that,
check your credit report a couple times of year. You can also arrange with you
credit company to be notified if you make a purchase over a specific amount of
If you suspect your identity or credit might be in danger, put a freeze on your
credit. No one will be able to take out credit in your name. Even you will have
to remove the freeze if you want to take out a new credit card.
Keep your credit cards to a minimum for less exposure. Use cash and not a debit
card or credit card when you go shopping or eat out. Pay your bills online
through your bank. Watch your credit card when it leaves your hands. Be sure no
one has a chance to make a copy or imprint of the information.
Sensitive documents should not be throw away before being shredded or torn up.
Inspect junk mail to be sure it doesn't contain information you wouldn't want
others to see.
Beware of Internet fraud. There are so many people sending fake emails. Never
respond to financial institution requests that come by email, no matter how
valid they look or how much information they know about you. Always log into
your account. If your financial institution has a message for you, it will be in
your personal mailbox on your website with them.
Be careful when you are called on the telephone. A lot has been said in the
press about Internet scams, but not as much about phone scams. Before he passed
away, my husband's stepfather was conned out of over $50,000 via the phone. He
was harassed and threatened. He was fooled into thinking the people calling him
were the police.
Older people are particularly vulnerable to threats and schemes that take away
their life savings. If you have elderly parents or neighbors, be mindful that
they may need your assistance. Be sure they have someone to talk to. My
husband's father-in-law didn't tell anyone what was happening. The criminals
were sending the police to his house, for various bogus reasons, and that scared
him. He was told on the phone, and believed that these policeman were part of
the group that was threatening him.
Keep your social security number private. Give it out only when necessary, and
only give the last 4 numbers when asked for verification.
Remember that in spite of your best efforts, it is not hard to become a victim
of financial fraud. If you are prepared to deal with it, the process of recovery
will be much smoother and less aggravating.
Mail fraud and identity theft are only getting worse. Protect yourself the best
your can, prepare for the worse, and then sleep soundly knowing you have done