The phrase “identity thieves” usually brings up images of dumpster divers rifling through trash cans to find Social Security numbers, account numbers, and personal information that might help them steal cash or credit. In today´s technical world, the phrase might also invoke thoughts of digital thieves savvy enough to hack into a person´s online accounts.
Rarely do we consider our personal acquaintances, family members, and friends as identity predators. But we should!
“Friends and family members often make it easy on identity thieves,” said Tony Rose, a family wealth counselor and the president of Rose, Snyder & Jacobs. Rose noted that personal acquaintances have more access to a person´s sensitive information. “Rarely do family members hide their bills, bank statements, and Social Security numbers from each other. Few household computers are password-protected when not in use.”
This allows potential thieves easy access to their family members´ personal information. The Federal Trade Commission receives a flood of reports about teenage children, siblings, and even parents who steal their family member´s Social Security numbers, credit card account numbers, and debit cards. And dishonest household guests, maids, nannies, and handymen are tempted by bills left on desks, unlocked computers, and wallets that offer easy access to credit card numbers.
Identity theft by family members and friends is not always a malicious crime intended to steal cash. Parents with low credit scores can fraudulently use their children´s names and Social Security numbers to establish credit or open an account. Though these thieves are not necessarily looking to steal cash, they can harm their victims´ credit scores.
Many of us have taken steps to keep our information out of the reach of strangers. We don´t carry our Social Security cards. We use hard-to-crack PINs and passwords, and we shred sensitive paperwork. Unfortunately, these steps are not enough to protect us from dishonest friends, family members, neighbors, employees, and co-workers.
“These are the people who know you the best,” said Rose “They know intimate details and secrets pertaining to your life. Many of them know your habits and daily schedules. They have access to your telephones, computers, vehicles, and sometimes your finances. You have likely opened your home to the ones you trust the most. And these are the people who could hurt you the most.”
To protect your information from family members, friends, and other acquaintances with access to your home, computer, or office, be sure to:
Invest in a safe or locked file cabinet to store all bank statements, tax returns, credit card statements, or other information that might include account numbers, passwords, or Social Security numbers.
Opt-out of credit card offers so that you don´t receive mail that family members and household guests could use to establish credit in your name.
Be careful with your purse, wallet, and checkbook when you have visitors. An identity thief needs nothing more than a credit card account number and expiration date to rack up huge charges on your credit cards.
Adopt a healthy suspicion of your teenage children and their friends. Even the best-raised teenagers will push boundaries and defy their parents. Until your children prove that they are responsible, keep them far away from your wallet, purse, account information, and Social Security numbers.
Be sure to turn the computer off or logout when you are not using it, and establish different user names and passwords for each person who uses the computer.
Don´t keep financial files-especially those that include Social Security numbers or account numbers-on your computer´s hard drive. Sophisticated computer users might be able to hack into them, even if your computer files are password-protected.
Don´t choose passwords that are obvious, like birth dates, pets´ names, or phone numbers. Your roommate, visiting cousin, or child is likely to know this information.
Adopt a need-to-know approach to your personal information. While your spouse might need to know your credit card account numbers or passwords, your teenage children probably do not.
Be wary of who you choose to watch your house when you leave town. Sure, it´s easy for your neighbor to collect your mail, but this could expose your home to risk. When leaving town, request a “vacation hold” on all mail from the U.S. Postal Service by calling 1-800-275-8777.
Whenever possible, opt for automatic deposits instead of physical checks to stop would-be-thieves from cashing paychecks or tax refunds.
If you live with a family member or roommate you do not trust, consider diverting your mail to a post office box.
Consider having regular “identity checks” by enrolling in a product such as ProtectMyID™ to make sure that the identities of you, your spouse, and your children have not been compromised.
Follow the same precautions with your office to prevent dishonest coworkers, clients, and employees from stealing your personal information.
Finally, be sure to watch for the obvious warning signs. Be wary of those with a desperate need for cash.
“Family members and friends with addiction problems might steal to support their habits, as might those who live way beyond their means,” said Rose. “Also keep an eye on intrusive friends, family members, or household employees who ask invasive questions about your accounts or personal information.”
No one wants to accuse a friend, family member, or coworker of a crime, but if someone has violated your trust and assumed your identity, file a police report. Remember that a damaged credit score is one of the casualties of identity theft. Without a police report, you will have a hard time proving identity theft and repairing your score.
©2011 ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. All rights reserved.