I get the feeling that we in the Caribbean are not too concerned about identity theft. I would bet that the majority of you throw away documents which give your full name, address, bank account numbers, date of birth and other personal information. Do you know that information can be used by criminals to obtain products and services in your name? This is called identity theft. In essence, someone recreates a new “you” using your information.
How do they get this information? It’s hard to believe that people rummage through your garbage looking for what they can find. But it’s a fact that this happens. Internet transactions and communications are also gateways for identity theft. Personal theft is also popular because the thief has instant access to all of your documents.
To protect yourself from identity theft, you should:
1. Monitor your financial accounts and statements regularly
This allows you to spot any suspicious activity and report it to the relevant authorities. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to maintain you accounts.
2. Shred all personal documents before discarding
Before you throw away an old bank statement or any other personal document, shred it! If you do not have a shredder, detach the portions containing your name, address, account number and other identifiable information and rip it into small pieces or cut them up with a scissors.
3. Be internet smart
Be careful where you shop and enter your credit card information. Check for security certificates and authorised logos from your credit card brand. When you see suspicious emails asking for personal information, ignore them. Crooks are known to use this method to gather personal information. Financial institutions do not usually send out emails asking for such.
4. Protect your PIN number
Extra caution at ATM machines is a must. Try to hide your code number when entering it into the machine and pay attention to who is behind you. If you are uncomfortable, leave the ATM. I prefer to visit ATM machines during the day and I always use the ones located inside of the bank.
5. Report any thefts immediately
As soon as you realise that your personal items have been stolen, make a report to the police. Call your bank and credit union and immediately cancel your credit cards and freeze your ATM cards. The sooner you make the report, the better. This could even lead to the arrest of the perpetrators if and when they try to use your stuff.
*** This post is featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #342: Happy New Year Edition hosted by Sweating the Big Stuff ***