March 22, 2012

Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

Yes, I know this does not seem like the type of post you expect to find on the KidsFormal.com blog…or any formal wear provider’s blog. However, after a recent incident I had this morning, I felt the need to share a few tips for how you can protect yourself from identity theft. So, I’ll start with what happened this morning that led me to post this article.

This morning, my husband and I went to a local diner for breakfast and on a whim I decided to pay with my credit card…which I very rarely use. After two attempts the cashier told me that a message “call customer service line” kept appearing and the card was declined. So, I went ahead and paid with my check card and came home.

When I called the credit card company I was transferred to the security department who wanted to verify a few transactions. Naturally, I got out my statement and was shocked to see that my card had been used 5 times in one day at a Dunkin Donuts shop in Brooklyn, NY! Thankfully, all of the combined charges totaled less than $20 and the credit card company put an emergency security hold on the card. Right after that, the thief tried to use the card number again at a CVS Pharmacy for $117.42, but thankfully, the hold was already in place and that was denied. There have been no further charge attempts on the card since.

However, that scared me so I naturally checked with all my other open accounts to make sure no fraudulent charges have been made. I also checked with Experian.com to make sure no new accounts have been opened in my name. There haven’t been. So, at the moment it appears that the incident was a close call for me, but identity theft is on the rise and a real problem.
As we (Kids Formal) provide our customers with fine children’s formalwear, both online and offline, I feel it is necessary to share a few tips for protecting yourself from identity theft.

1.    Online Purchases – It doesn’t matter if you are ordering an Easter dress from KidsFormal.com or a book from an individual seller online, you need to make sure that the URL for the ordering page begins with “https:”  - the “s” is critical…it means the site is secure. Do not place an order for anything online without checking to make sure the site is secure. Also, it’s a wise idea to only use one credit card for all of your online purchases…no matter where they’re from. In fact, if you have a dedicated credit card used solely for online purchases, it will make it easier to catch any fraudulent charges that may occur. (NEVER use a bank card when making online purchases…credit cards are much easier to stop and recover the money from, whereas, bank accounts are an entirely different story.)

2.    Properly Dispose of All Receipts – Many of us have left receipts in our vehicles or carelessly tossed them in the trash. Don’t do this! Many identity thieves know that some receipts print out the entire credit card number, making it easy to steal. The proper way to dispose of receipts is to shred them at home in a cross-shredder.

3.    Drop Bill Payments Off at the Post Office – A lot of people have their identities stolen by mailbox thieves. These people go around and look in people’s mailboxes and steal payments in order to gain the credit card information, as well as, a new identity. Therefore, drive your bill payments to the post office and drop them in the outgoing mail slot. Or, sign up for automatic bill payment or set up an online payment plan with your bank and eliminate the manual/mailed payments altogether.

4.    Keep Your Social Security Number Locked in a Safe Place – Do not carry your social security number with you, and do not have it written down either. Your social security card (and all of your family member’s cards) should be locked in a fireproof safe or another safe place in your home. Some people even keep them locked in a security box at their bank to ensure they aren’t stolen. As far as the government goes, your identity is your social security number, so protect it well.

5.    Cancel Unused Cards/Accounts – If you have open credit card accounts or store accounts that you never use, cancel them immediately. There is no need to keep these accounts open. You’re more likely to forget about them, which makes them easier to be stolen and used without your knowledge.

6.    Purchase Identity Theft Insurance – I hope that you never have your identity stolen, but if it does happen it can be a very time-consuming/expensive problem to fix. Identity theft insurance is now available and will assist you in rectifying the problem if it occurs…it will also help you with the financial aspect of fixing the issue.