Consumer Watch: More tips on how to avoid ID theft

Several readers have asked for more information about protecting themselves from identity theft. As I’m speaking to the Scenic City Friends next week about ID theft/fraud, it seems an ideal time to piggyback on last week’s column with some expanded info.

According to Senior Digest News, a person’s identity is stolen every two seconds. The U.S. Department of Justice tells us that in 2012 Americans suffered $24.7 billion in ID theft loss — and that is just for reported cases.

It’s imperative we use any method possible to stop these creeps before we find ourselves the traumatized and impoverished victim. (Note: Florida, Georgia and Nevada are the top three states for fraud per capita; Florida, Washington and Oregon are the top three for ID theft complaints.)

Past advice has included shredding confidential documents, using pass codes to lock smartphones, laptops and tablets, and never carrying your Social Security card. Because thieves now use more advanced techniques to financially mess with us, we must think smarter to stay one step ahead.

Take, for instance, leaving one’s purse or wallet in the car, locked or not — 19 percent of Americans ages 18-49 admitted to leaving these possessions in their locked car over a week in December. Think of the wealth of information thieves could retrieve — it truly boggles the mind.

Another warning was to either use a post office box for mail or put a mail slot in your door. (Unless you are limited from going to a mailbox because of age or disability, be sure to check with your local postmaster before making that hole in the front door.)

And how many placed fraud alerts on your accounts with the Big Three credit reporting agencies? Fewer than 20 percent of those interviewed who underwent ID theft actually placed these fraud alerts. Scary, huh?

Even better is to place a security freeze on your credit files. Fraud alerts generally expire in 90 days, and if you and lenders don’t take precautions to extend, problems may occur. A freeze, though, completely blocks your credit report from being accessed, as well as credit from being issued until you lift the freeze. Even though some states mandate a small fee to establish or reestablish a freeze, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It may be a bit of a hassle to have to give an OK every time you wish to open a new account, take out a loan or the like; on the other hand, give me that fraud alert and/or freeze all day long so I don’t have to worry about a thief taking out a new car loan in my name.

What about debit cards, you say? Under federal law, if someone makes unauthorized charges on your credit card, you are responsible for only $50, and most issuers won’t even charge that.

A debit card is vastly different, though; one has just two business days to report an unauthorized amount or money transfer. If you fail to do so, the charges mount up quickly — up to $500. Worse, more than 60 days after the bank statement is sent out could result in every red cent pilfered from the account(s). With this in mind, never ever use debit cards for the following purchases:

Gas stations

Crooks place a portable card-reading device inside the gas pump, and when a motorist pops in a debit card and enters the personal ID number, the device grabs the private data. Furthermore, after the crook removes the skimmer device, he then uses the stolen data to make a duplicate debit card to ransack the victim’s bank account.

Restaurants

This is one place where your payment — cash, credit or debit card — leaves your hands and sight. Unsavory servers can and do steal info and then go on to devour your identity. Also, some restaurants maintain customer payment information but may not safeguard the data.

Retail stores

We all know of cyberattacks, such as the massive Target breach in 2013 and others since. Many of us became victims, much to our dismay. While credit cards certainly are vulnerable in these hackings as well, users are still protected by the $50 cap. Debit card users, on the other hand, may find themselves opening the door to the poorhouse, especially as techno-thieves become more sophisticated.

Required deposits

Whether hotel rooms, rental cars or any other scenario whereby consumers must make a deposit to rent a place, something to drive, supplies or services, a debit card can swing back around to slap us in the face. A “hold” is often placed on your account that may be greater than your expected bill and, if this occurs, you may be denied access to the additional hold amount in your own bank account.

Legal Shred
11806 S US Hwy 41
Gibsonton, FL 33534
813-321-4507