Simple Ways to Protect Your Identity

Seven years ago I went out to the mail box, a baby in the sling and a toddler on my hip, to find a rejection letter from a mortgage lender. I had not applied for a mortgae through this bank or any other bank. In fact, it had not even been a year since we had purchased this house.  I called the bank to find out what was going on. It had to be a mistake.

Photo by Mauneal da Ros

I immediately called the bank and found that indeed someone, using my maiden name, address, and old telephone number (we had dropped our land line a few months prior) had applied for a mortgage. The lender told me he had rejected the application, despite my credit score, because he had left multiple messages asking for me at the phone number with no return. He believed something to be off on the application.

I have to give the guy credit. He was great. He contacted all of the credit report agencies for me to explain the situation so that it wouldn’t affect my credit rating. He gave me all of the information he had and told me I should file a police report. We dutifully drove to the police station to hand over all of the information we had and were told, “We have more important things to do.”

Then we waited to see if anything else would come of it. Luckily, nothing did. However, the idea that my identity had been stolen was unsettling. There are some simple ways to help protect yourself from identity theft, many of which we were already doing.

  • Invest in a shredder. Shred anything that has personal information on it. Not all shredders are created equal. You want one that has very thing strips and also cross cuts into short lengths. You don’t want anyone digging the papers out and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Eventually, when we have chickens, I plan to use the shredded paper as part of their and later compost it.
  • Cut down on the amount of credit offers you receive. Not only does it leave less mail for you to deal with and save a few trees in the process, but it gives potential thieves fewer opportunities to get your information or apply for credit in your name. Signing up for no mail lists in a win.
  • Guard your social security number. Don’t carry your card around. Don’t give it out over the phone unless you know the person; do not give it to solicitors who call.
  • Online ordering is often easy and more economical, but make certain it is also secure. Make certain that online purchases are done through a secure site. Look for the web address to have https instead of http.

We have changed a couple of things from that incident in order to better protect our identities.

  • Don’t leave paid bills in the mailbox. Bills contain personal information, along with the information on your signed check. Anyone could potentially take them out of the mailbox. If they are willing to steal your identity, they aren’t concerned about federal laws about mail. Drop bills off into a postal box so they aren’t sitting around. Better yet, utilize your bank’s online bill pay and save a tree and avoid the mailbox altogether. Some people will even advise you to get a P.O. box so that your mail is never sitting around in an unsecure mailbox.
  • Check your credit reports. There are companies such as LifeLock, IdentityHawk, and IdentityGuard offer identity theft protection plans. We had LifeLock for a while, and personally, I don’t recommend it. They were not organized. They didn’t keep track of when they had ordered our credit reports and so they would order our free credit reports at the wrong time, resulting in our never receiving them. I can’t tell you anything else they did. We ended up dropping them. You can order your free credit reports yourself. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit reports every 12 months from all three agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. I like to spread those out throughout the year in the hopes of catching something sooner. My trusty planner comes in handy for this. Otherwise I would forget.

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