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Identity Theft Prevention - Out of the Mouths of Inmates by Submission

What is the one thing an identity theft criminal would advise you to do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft?

Well, a friend of mine who works as a psychologist for a local prison has the opportunity to talk to inmates on a daily basis that have been incarcerated for identity theft. I recently requested that she ask these inmates what was their best advice to help people to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. She informed me that the inmates response, without hesitation, was to recommend that people shred, shred and re-shred every bit of mail and identifiable documents they put in the trash.

Sound simple?
It is simple, but many of us don’t take the time or effort to do it, therefore putting ourselves at higher risk to become a victim of identity theft.

Shred Smart!
Not only did the criminals recommend you shred your mail, they recommended you shred it using a cross shredder. A cross shredder will cut the paper horizontally as well as vertically making it much more difficult to piece the document back together. A dedicated criminal may be able to ‘stitch back the document if it has only been shredded vertically.

Are cross shredders more expensive? In my research I have found that most cross shredders are comparable with traditional shredders. Even if a cross shredder were to cost a few dollars more, isn’t the potential financial and emotional savings worth the minimal additional cost?

The Great Black Garbage Abyss…
Do you really know where your garbage goes? Most of us don’t give our trash a second thought. We plop it down in front of our houses on trash day and expect it to be carted off to that great black abyss in the earth, never to be seen or heard from again. You come home from work or wake up in the morning and your ‘worthless trash has magically disappeared. But does your trash always make its anticipated journey to the great black abyss? Even though your trash has disappeared, it may have fallen into the wrong hands.

Trash or Treasure?
Your forgotten garbage sitting alone on the curb can be a gold mine to the identity theft criminal. Some of the treasures they hope to find are copies of your bank statements, canceled checks, credit cards, insurance documents or other records that list your personal information.

If you throw out your pre-approved credit card applications without shredding them up first, the identity theft criminal may take these applications to open accounts in your name. Then all the identity theft criminal has to do is fill out a change of address to have the account information sent to a new address to prevent you from ever becoming aware of the account.

Always shred documents that contain even basic information about you. If you don't have a shredder at home, then take the documents to work with you to shred if you have a shredder there. Better yet, purchase a shredder so you will always have one available.

Waving the Little Red Flag too High?
Another tip these identity theft criminals offered would be to never use your mailbox to mail letters. That little red flag waving on your mailbox is just that, a little red flag announcing to the potential identity theft criminal that you have left him/her a gold mine full of treasure in your mailbox. So leave out the calling card and mail your letters at the post office or drop them off in a postal collection mailbox.

Daycare for Postal Mail…
These inmates even went so far as to advise you to never use your mailbox to receive your mail. Everyone knows that mailboxes are full of important documents, sitting there all day unsupervised waiting for you to come home and retrieve them. What can you do to protect your unattended mail? Go to the post office and get a post office box to collect your mail. Then your mail will be protected under lock and key until you are ready to pick it up. Yes, I know P.O. boxes cost money, but they are not considerably expensive. And yes, I know it is inconvenient to have to run to the post office to get your mail, but we now live in an age where a small amount of inconvenience and cost is necessary to protect ourselves.

Solution Summary:
1. Spend a few extra bucks and purchase a cross shredder and shred all your documents before throwing them in the trash.
2. Don’t leave your mail unattended in your mailbox all day.
3. Mail all your letters at the post office or drop them off in a postal collection box.
4. Get ‘daycare’ for your mail and keep it safe at the post office in a P.O. box until you are ready to pick it up.

More Tips:
1. Don’t carry your Social Security Card with you. Your Social Security Number (SSN) is the most important piece of information that an identity theft criminal needs.
2. Never give out SSN or credit card information over the phone or Internet unless you are completely sure of the source receiving your information.
3. Never click links in an email to visit web sites. Always type the URL in your address bar manually.
4. Be very diligent about keeping your computer system clean of viruses, trojans and spyware.

Using common sense and taking a few extra precautionary measures can go a long way in helping you to protect your identity. Take action now and don’t make the identity theft criminal's job any easier than it has to be.

Brenda Mohney - Founder of Identity Theft Security, a site dedicated to providing tools and tips to help people protect their identities. Brenda currently works as a software engineer for ILS.
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