In 2008, I saw a Today Show episode that has framed the way I look at Identity Theft and Fraud offline. Since watching this episode, I have been very vigilant about keeping my information from the fraudsters. The episode was about Jim Stickle, a professional identity thief.
Identity Theft and Fraud Offline – The Find
Jim Stickley was hired by a large bank to gain access to confidential information from senior executives. The bank wanted to know if their own people were putting them at risk. Jim started by waiting in the parking lot of corporate headquarters and following each one home. Within a couple of weeks, he had the names and home addresses of every executive.
Next, Jim had to get information that could be used to break into the bank’s systems. Jim headed straight for the trash cans. In the trash, he uncovered account statements for their local utilities and much more – enough to get started and do some real damage. “The simple fact is that throughout the hundreds of dumpsters that I have had the pleasure of ‘visiting,’ it has been a rare day that I come away empty handed. Most often I leave with enough confidential information to keep the average identity thief in business for months, or even years. I have found social security numbers, copies of drivers’ licenses, credit applications, credit card numbers, complete names and addresses, and phone numbers — all in the trash.”, remarked Jim.
Identity Theft and Fraud Offline – The Con
Armed with an internet service bill, Jim called the homeowners and told them he was from the Internet company. He had each person’s account numbers, name and addresses, current amount due, and last month’s payment information. The representative claimed his company would be sending out new software and he was informing their customers that they needed to install the new software when it arrived in the mail. A week later, all the executives’ computers were “updated” with the new software. From that point on, it was child’s play to access the bank’s system.
Identity Theft and Fraud Offline – Are You A Target?
You may not work at a bank and may not be a high profile target like our victims in the story above. However, your carelessness could make you a target. According to a MyFico.com report, 82% of ID theft victims’ information is accessed offline – mostly by losing your wallet or through theft by someone you know.
Identity Theft and Fraud Offline – Prevention
Would you be smart enough to figure out Jim’s con if he called you on the phone pretending to be from your cable company? I don’t think I would be that clever. So, let’s focus on how NOT to get into a situation of Identity Theft or Fraud offline. Here are some tips that will help you.
- Get a Good Quality Shredder – The most common way that identity thieves still operate is offline, not online. Make sure you shred any financial paperwork (bills, statements, letters, etc.) before tossing them. Amazon has a good one for $50.
- Shred Before You Recycle - Recycling is no safer than throwing something in your garbage and thieves can access your recycling just as easily as your trash.
- Beat the $#!# Out of Old Hard Drives and Flash Drives – Just the other night, I had an old 256mb flash drive that no longer worked. I took it to my garage and beat it with a hammer before tossing it in the garbage. For Computers, I format the hard drive first and then smash the $#!% out of it. You can learn how from this forum thread.
- Never Give Out Your Social Security Number – Be a pain about this one. There are some financial institutions that require your Social Security number for identity verification purposes. Beyond that, challenge a company when they ask for your Social Security number. Ask them what else they can use instead.
- Don’t Read Your Social Security Number in Public – I hardly handle any important business at home. In most cases, I am calling about one of my accounts during the day while I am at work or going from place to place. When asked over the phone to verify your Social Security number, simply reply, “I’m in public. Is there anything else I can verify?” Most companies will let you validate your account using other information.
- There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch – Two weeks ago, I was at work and received a phone call from a blocked number (red flag #1). The person did not ask for my name (red flag #2). After getting into his spiel, I interrupted and told him he had the wrong number. He said, “You didn’t enter a contest to win a free trip (red flag #3)?” I hung up. Be skeptical. No one is going to give you something for free. They want something from you and often times the costs are hidden.
- Talk With Your Kids – Tell your children about identity theft and tell them never to share any information with a stranger. This includes what town they live in, their address, phone number, parent’s names, etc.
- Opt Out of Pre‐approved Credit Offers – One common trick of Identity Theft Professionals is to change your address at the post office. All they have to do is log onto usps.gov and provide the old and new address. Call 1‐888‐5‐OPTOUT (1‐888‐567‐8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com to be removed from credit card offers.
By being careful and taking a few precautionary steps, you can avoid a disaster that will take 20-40 hours of your time to fix. Follow the 8 steps above for better protection.
Do you have any tips to add to the list? Let us know your tips in the comments section.
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