Identity Theft has been making news and taking headlines this year.  The IRS has dealt with its fair share of fraudulent claims, the FBI has even struggled with a breach.  Most of us have seen the many different retailers that are scrambling to reinforce their cyber security after attacks rendered their consumers information vulnerable. Every industry from government to health care to retail is working to combat this new challenge.  Often the reports are using large numbers and it’s easy to forget how identity theft affects an individual.  The San Diego based Identity Theft Resource Center “has calculated that it takes about 600 hours to restore your reputation after identity theft”.  An average individual affected by identity theft will suffer a financial loss of $5,130 dollars.  In 2014 12,157,400 U.S. citizens were affected by Identity Theft.  Below are tips that may be helpful in lowering the risk of your personal identification becoming exposed.

1. Watch for shoulder-surfers:  We’ve all had experiences with people who have trouble understanding personal space.  Just be aware when people are having trouble keeping to themselves when you are entering your PIN to make purchases.

2. Require photo ID verification:  Writing “CID” on the signature line of your credit cards or debit cards.  This is a good way to signal cashiers and clerks that you want them to ask for your ID before they run your card.

3. Shred everything:  All those offers you get for credit cards and refinance notices that you throw away or recycle – please take the next step to shred them before you throw them out.  This makes it that much more difficult to lift any personal or identifying information from your mail.

4. Destroy digital data:  If you sell, donate, or hand down a computer, be sure to wipe the computer’s hard drive of any personal/financial/medical data.  Simply deleting things is often not enough.  Enlist a professional if you are unsure how to do this.

5. Be diligent about checking statements:  Being diligent about checking your statements will alert you to any unusual activity on your accounts and can minimize the amount of damage done if your identity is compromised.

6. Pay your bills at the post office:  If you are in a habit of leaving your bills to be paid in your mailbox for the letter carrier to pick up – Security experts suggest you change this habit.  Take your mail to the post office, ensuring it makes it out and not into the hands of someone lifting things from mailboxes.

7. Limit the information on your checks:  Limiting the information on your checks can be vital.  Yes, it may save a few seconds when you write the check out to have your SSN or your Drivers License number printed out – but the time lost to recovering your identity won’t be measured in seconds.  

8. Analyze your credit report annually:  Reviewing your credit report at least once a year will be a very productive half hour spent.  The information gained from reviewing your annual activity can be priceless!

9. Protect your Social Security Number (SSN):  Our Social Security Numbers have become our singular identifier nationally.  Security experts warn AGAINST carrying your SSN card with you (Wallet/Purse/Pocket/Glove Box).  Certainly do not use the number as a PIN to anything (even the last 4 digits can be enough to do damage).

10. Know Who You Do Business With:  Ask yourself some questions when purchasing in store and on-line – Does this retailer take security seriously?  Do they have the resources to assist me if there is a breach?  Do they have and what are their policies on cyber security?