Identity theft is a crime in which a person?s identity is stolen and used to the thief’s advantage. Your identity in this sense can mean anything from your name to your medical account numbers. Theft such as this can have a lasting effect on your credit (identity theft usually goes unrecognized until an unusual expenditure) which takes time and money to restore.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, you’re not alone. Identity theft is a common crime and, according to the FBI, can cost American businesses up to $24 Billion every year. However, despite the myriad of advertisements that market protection against online identity theft programs as a means of protecting your online files, online theft represents less than 10% of identity theft cases.
But if the grand majority of personal information is stolen from physical documents, how can Americans protect themselves from identity theft?
Consider using these seven ways to protect yourself:
- Protect your social security number
- Protect your mail
- Destroy old hard drives
- Shred old documents
- Document storage
- Protect your computer
- Check your credit
One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is by keeping your social security card in a safe place such as a document storage company or safety deposit box where only you know where it?s kept. It’s dangerous to write your social security number down and to give your number out during an unsolicited phone call, therefore keep your social security number to yourself unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Be sure if you receive mail with pre-approved credit cards or the like that you shred them or tear them to ensure they are unusable before you throw them away. It’s also important to shred any mail containing personal information. If you?re going away, contact the post-office and put your mail on hold so your mail won?t accumulate and become vulnerable to theft.
Information is easily stolen from old electronics where their hard drives haven?t been destroyed. Even if you?ve deleted information manually, there may still be personal information hackers can gain access to through the hard drive. Therefore, if you need to store an old hard drive consider using a document storage company; otherwise, consider hard drive destruction or a hard drive shredder before re-selling old computers or phones which may contain personal information and credit card numbers.
For old and obsolete documents containing personal information, consider what documents can be destroyed and utilize free document shredding services or onsite document shredding solutions. Paper shredding is extremely important and is the most effective way to keep personal and business information confidential and safe from prying eyes.
Paper shredding is also an effective way to protect your environment. Paper is the number one solid waste around the world and, despite the fact that technology is increasing in the business world, 95% of business information is still estimated to be recorded on paper. Because of this, paper shredding is a necessity for most businesses to keep information confidential. For doctors and medical practitioners, it?s illegal not to shred documents because of the sensitivity of their patients? information. 80% of paper mills in the United States, according to the EPA, use these shredded and recycled documents, which causes 74% less air pollution than the use of virgin, non-recycled paper.
Storing your personal files and information at work or a document storage company keeps clutter from your house and also keeps your documents organized and confidential. If you need your documents on hand, but prefer to store them in a safe place such as a document storage company, consider document scanning solutions. Scanning documents safely into your computer keeps your documents on hand for your personal use while reducing your risk of a house fire.
Although online identity theft represent fewer than 10% of cases, it does happen. To ensure your personal information is safe online, install software such as firewalls, anti-spyware, and virus-detection.
Finally, one of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to order your credit report. Check for any abnormalities to ensure no one has accessed your information and that there are no additional accounts unknown to you.
If you are a victim of identity theft, report a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department immediately.