Many of us make basic New Year’s Resolutions, only to discover on down the road, for example, that extra five holiday pounds have doubled to ten or clearing out dresser drawer clutter only added more debris to the linen closet. For 2014, why not make a consumer resolution to avoid identity theft and, in so doing, thwart scammers who lurk around waiting to snatch your personal information? Unless you pay real cash (not debit cards or checks) all the time, it may be next to impossible to avoid organized thieves, such as those who recently “targeted” Target customers; however, it’s easy to take the many available steps to protect ourselves individually. Thanks to Reader’s Digest for adding onto my own lists:
1 Some thieves deliberately stand behind customers in grocery or retail lines and, when the latter pays with as card, the baddie will snap a picture with his phone and no one’s the wiser until all those charges start showing up.
2 Never put up the red flag on your mail box. Not only does this signify outgoing mail (with checks and/or credit card info) to the carrier, but also to the unscrupulous. On a similar note, I only place greeting cards in the mailbox for pick-up; what bills I don’t pay online go to the post office to mail.
3 Nag, nag, nag. Check your credit card and bank statements at least a couple of times a month and, even better, weekly.
4 Know when your bills come due. If one or more statements don’t arrive, then figure your mail may have been stolen, especially if you’re prone to getting unsolicited preapproved credit cards. (Call or go online to opt out from receiving these offers: 888-5-OPTOUT or optoutprescreen.com)
5 Nag some more. Shred (preferably with a cross-shredder) all unsolicited trash like that in #4, old bills, checks and deposit slips, expired credit cards, and any teeny tiny piece of paper that contains even a fraction of your personal information. Yes, I sound like a paranoid obsessive. I am and proud of it!
6 When you get cash from an ATM, look for anything out of place. Thieves can attach skimmers to capture your card info and PIN.
7 Caution to those who use debit cards rather than credit cards. Don’t forget a hacker can break into retail databases easier with debit cards, access bank information, plus there’s no limits on the amount for which you’re financially responsible other than what you have in that account.
8 Upload a photo of yourself on the front side of your credit card. If possible, use your photo on the card’s entire front. Go online to your credit card site and follow the directions. (Note: A photo of your cat won’t go very far in prohibiting a thief’s usage of the card.) In fact, even with your face shining out for the entire world to see, it’s also still a good idea to instruct ASK FOR PHOTO ID on the signature line.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer- oriented books. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.