I am sure we have all seen those Citibank commercials where the big heavyset middle-aged man takes on the voice of a valley-girl teenager. Or perhaps the one where an elderly lady take on the voice of a husky-voiced man. The commercials center around identity theft and it’s a problem that consumers and even credit card companies want to help curb, as it is costing the industry and individuals millions of dollars to rectify. The U.S. Department of Justice posted the following on their website,
The Federal Trade Commission advises: “While you probably can’t prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.” Source: FTC Brochure - ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name
Traditionally, in the Black community, the mindset has been, "I have nothing to take". So because there seems to be a more laid-back (than in other communities) attitude, the concern has not been as high. But what happens when you are denied insurance or medical care because someone has hijacked your identity?
As the quote suggests, there are some things that you can do to help protect your good name and minimize your risk.
• Shred and destroy unwanted documents that contain personal information.
o People think that shedders are only for accountants and business owners. This is not the case. Make the small investment of purchasing a shredder (preferably one that cross-shreds) to ensure that your information is unreadable to predators
• Bring your mail in daily - don’t leave mail in your mailbox.
o If you know that you will be away for an extended period of time, notify the post office or ask someone you trust to bring in your mail for you. Identity thieves will watch for overstuffed mailboxes that give the appearance that no one is home for a while
• Immediately report lost or stolen credit cards.
o Make it a regimen to go through your wallet every few days to make sure you have all your credit cards and debit cards intact. I have made the mistake of leaving a credit card at a store counter, because I was in a rush to leave.
• Review and monitor your consumer credit reports regularly.
o There are many credit monitoring services out there. This service is being offered by all three credit reporting agencies for a reasonable fee. You can decide whether the cost is justifiable on a personal basis but there are identity theft insurance available now through many insurance agencies, and the monitoring is sometimes included.
Some other tips include…
• Do not carry your social security card or your birth certificate. Keep these tucked away in a safe place at home (like an actual safe).
• Be aware and note when your monthly financial statements arrive in the mail. Notify your financial institutions when they don’t arrive when expected.
• Watch your financial statements and ensure all charges made are yours.
• Keep your ATM and Debit Card receipts, do not leave these behind.
You should also note that identity theft is not always a criminal act that is done by strangers. An increasing number of people are being ‘hit’ by family members and people who are close them, and have access to the important paperwork that can gain them access to one’s identity such as knowledge of a maiden name or a date of birth.
All in all, you should take every precaution to guard your identity, because after all, a good name is hard to come by.