A flight attendant skims credit cards stealing $480,000 over a three-year period. How could this happen? She got away with it for so long because passengers failed to check their credit card statements.
Are you protecting yourself?
Ask yourself these questions. Are you:
- Using an ATM with your debit card?
- Using free Wi-Fi?
- Paying bills online?
- Having your social security card in your wallet?
- Checking your online bank statement?
- Using online credit card statements to do expense reports?
- Shopping – online or in stores?
- Using Wi-Fi in-flight?
- Storing sensitive data on your laptop?
- Riding elevators or subways?
- Failing to stop your mail when out of town?
- Downloading movies to your iPad?
If you answered yes to any of them, you are a candidate for identify theft.
Oh, you answered yes to ALL of them? Your risk just skyrocketed. (Don’t feel alone . . . I answered Yes to all but the last – and only because I do not yet have an iPad.)
Maybe you’ve wondered about your exposure to identity theft. You have taken what you think is a precaution or two:
You look around to ensure no one is watching when standing at the ATM.
You make sure there is a little “s” behind http when doing online shopping.
You run a virus-check on your laptop on a scheduled basis.
You password-protect sensitive documents, including the one that holds your account numbers.
Phew … you should be safe.
Not so fast!
Sorry to be the deliverer of bad news but all of us are vulnerable every day – and it doesn’t matter if we’re on the road or sitting on our back porch! Whether you travel a little or a lot, all you have to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And our risks increase as we move more and more to an online world and have an ever-growing wallet of mileage-accruing credit and debit cards.
Will we ever be completely safe against identify theft? Unfortunately no. But can we be smart about it? Yes!
There are people who make it their business to thwart thieves who steal your personal identification. To get specific answers for identify protection, I spoke with the experts at LifeLock® – the people who provide proactive identity theft protection. Mike Prusinski, Senior VP of Corporate Communications at Lifelock, gave me lots of great advice to share with you on how to become very smart about preventing identify theft.
Here is Mike’s advice on warding off identity thieves from attacking you:
- Realize that identify theft is not just about credit cards – that’s only 15-16% of identity theft crime. Now it’s about someone stealing your social security number to get a job or file for benefits.
- Never carry your social security card in your wallet or purse. Leave this in your home safe or safety deposit box.
- Don’t use debit cards. They provide thieves with a direct pipeline to your bank accounts. It is also more difficult and time consuming to resolve fraudulent purchases made with debit cards. Instead, use a credit card where your liability is reduced.
- When using an ATM machine, as you enter your pin number use your other hand to cover up the entry.
If asked for your social security number on paper or online applications – leave it blank! If they want this information, ask these questions:
- Why do you need it?
- How are you storing this data? Laptop, desktop, paper file?
- If something happens and I get a letter saying you lost my data, how are you going to protect me?
- Get an annual credit report and review it carefully. You are entitled to one free report annually from each of the top agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Ensure all of the account numbers are valid and that the credit cards are in your possession.
- Remove yourself from direct marketing lists. See Is Danger Lurking in Your Mailbox and You Don’t Even Know It? for how to do this.
- When using Wi-Fi, ensure you are selecting the right connection from your computer’s list of available Wi-Fi connections. You don’t want to be connecting to someone who is “sniffing out” your information.
- Avoid banking or shopping online when using free Wi-Fi.
- Get an air card (also known as a laptop card, wireless internet card, usb modem) from AT&T, Verizon or other mobile service provider. While there is a monthly service fee, you have more secure internet-on-the-go access even when no Wi-Fi is available.
- Chips in credit cards and passports were designed to be safer, but criminals have developed RFID readers. They can walk by you reading the credit card or passport information (since 2006, passports have RFID chips in them) right out of your wallet or purse. This is why everyone who answered Yes to the “Ride elevators or subways?” question is vulnerable. They even build antennas and drive by your home or office picking up the RFID signal.
You can place fraud alerts on your credit card accounts and freeze your credit file to prevent thieves from establishing credit in your name. Also, keep an inventory of credit cards and other important numbers in a safe place at home or safety deposit box. In addition, enlist the help of experts such as Lifelock or similar companies to help protect against identity theft.
Get smart. Be vigilant. Knowledge is power. Be safe.
To receive a free copy of our ebook, 70 Secrets to Safe Travel — Because Your Life Can Change in a Heartbeat, and for more travel savvy info to help you travel smarter, safer and with more enjoyment, visit SmartWomenTravelers.com and PearlsofTravelWisdom.com.