Editorial: Don't become ID theft victim
The reality of a modern world with all of its technological advances and convenience means there’s the potential for identity theft and that’s a problem to be addressed.
Before people become victims of identity theft, Scott Merritt, CEO of Merritt and Associates and author of “Identity Theft Do’s and Don’ts,” has offered the following seven ways to guard against it:
—Understand how and where it happens. Identity theft is like being robbed while away from home; most thefts occur in places where business is done every day. Either a place of business is robbed, a bad employee acts improperly or a hacker breaches the office through the computer.
—Secure the wallet’s information. Photocopy everything in a wallet—photos, credit cards (front and back), membership cards—everything. Put the copies in the order the cards are arranged in the wallet, staple the pictures and place them in a strong box or safe.
—Make sure the information is consistent. For all identity and financial documents, make absolutely sure, to the smallest detail, all personal information is accurate and consistent. Discrepancies such as having a middle initial on some documents and not on others, or having different addresses, can wreak havoc in proving identity, and can compromise a credit score.
—Secure digital habits and data. Change passwords at least twice a year on a non-scheduled basis—don’t be predictable. Have a strong firewall if shopping online, and only access sites protected by a strong firewall and high industry standards. Access accounts of a financial nature only from a personal computer.
—Protect banking information. While in the bank, keep account numbers and other data out of sight, and avoid stating account numbers, Social Security numbers and similar information out loud. When planning a bank visit, have items such as deposits and withdrawal slips prepared in advance.
—Account for interaction with vendors. Every time speaking to someone with whom business is done, write down the time, date, name and purpose or outcome of the call. If an identity theft occurs on the vendor’s end, these prior conversations will be available to reference effectively. Be sure to note any animosity or reluctance from the vendor.
—Don’t carry around a birth certificate or Social Security card. Unless it’s necessary, keep those vital items in a safe or at least a firebox. If knowing someone is going to need a copy of tax returns or driver’s license, for example, make the copies ahead of time. This avoids the need for a firm’s employee to leave the room with such information.
Tax fraud involving identity theft is a related concern. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks state taxpayers to take steps to protect their personal information and to use caution when filing their taxes. Consider these tips:
—If possible, file taxes early in the season to get a jump on a potential scammer.
—If filing taxes online, use a secure connection—not a public WiFi network. Update the operating system or anti-virus software ahead of time.
—If filing by mail, take the return directly to the post office rather than leaving it in an unsecured mailbox.
—Before choosing a tax preparer, do research and get references from other clients.
—Shred any unnecessary copies of the tax return, calculation sheets or supporting documentation.
—Never give out any personal or banking information on an unsolicited phone call or in response to an unsolicited email.
—If suspecting personal identity may have been stolen, check the credit report to ensure no new accounts have been created in a personal name. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to get a copy of the report from the three major credit bureaus.
—Anyone suspecting fraudulent activity is encouraged to file a complaint with DATCP. It can be filed online at datcp.wi.gov or call the state’s Consumer Information Hotline at 800-422-7128 and request a complaint form.
—To further protect consumers from tax scams, DATCP asks state residents to notify the state if they see questionable practices at tax preparation businesses. Complaints can be filed online through the DATCP website or using a DATCP complaint form.