Can You Prevent Identity Theft - Or Is It Over-Hyped?

December 17, 2008

Do you need to take active measures to prevent identity theft? Or is the risk of identity theft over-hyped, by companies who want to sell you products to prevent identity theft?

The Measures Banks Take To Prevent Identity Theft Is A Major Inconvenience

I used to think the risk of identity theft was exaggerated by regular retailers, who wanted folk to believe that shopping online was as dangerous as swimming in crocodile infested waters. And because I’d already shopped online for years, with few problems, I never used to worry about preventing identity theft at all. All this scaremongering was a major inconvenience.

And the lengths the bank went to, to prevent identity theft were plain irritating. I couldn’t travel abroad without them stopping my card and if I put a foreign cheque into my account, I had to wait 8 weeks for it to clear, while they checked for fraud.

All these things were a major inconvenience. But earlier this year, bills began arriving for stuff I hadn’t even bought. And that prompted me to find out more about how to prevent identity theft.

So Just How Common Is Identity Theft Anyway?

  • It’s not just you who’s at risk of identity theft. The identities of your children could be stolen. Folk can run up huge bills in their names, making it difficult for them from getting student loans, or opening bank accounts when they’re older.

  • 8.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2005 - and they are just the ones who actually realized their identities had been stolen.

  • As well as buying goods in your name, identity theft fraudsters can even take over your bank account, by pretending to be you.

  • Some Common Identity Theft Scams

    Identity thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated but here’s a few of the known identity theft scams they’ll try to pull.

    • Stealing your identity from your car, home, or even from your trash.

    • Card Cloning from a device attached to an ATM machine.

    • Calls or emails with amazing offers that require you to give your card details.

    • Phishing: Sending fake emails from your bank, ebay, or even paypal, asking you to login to your account.

    • Craigslist Rentals: Advertising empty homes for rent on Craigslist. They pretend they’re the owner, working overseas and sting renters for the deposit and advance rent.

    • Cold Calls - asking you to buy shares, take out insurances etc. over the phone.

    • Email lottery and money transfer funds - Tell you you’ve won a substantial sum of money, or ask you to transfer a large sum of money through your bank account, in exchange for a commission.

    • Stealing the identity of the newly dead - They check newspapers to see who has died recently and either steal their mail or have it redirected to them.

    So How Can You Prevent Identity Theft?

    • Shred all documents containing your name and address - even envelopes and credit card receipts.

    • Don’t allow vendors to take your credit card out of sight. And if you’re using a credit card machine, don’t insert the card if you notice any strange devices near the slot.

    • Don’t give any personal details to cold callers, or emailers.

    • If you receive emails from your bank, paypal, or anywhere else, asking you to log in to your account - report them to your Internet Service provider.

    • If a loved one dies, don’t leave personal documents in their empty home, have all mail re-directed to your address and check the pockets of clothing for personal details before sending it to charity shops.

    • Sign up to a reputable service, which prevents identity theft, such as LifeLock.
      Not only can they prevent your identity from being stolen to begin with - they also offer a guarantee, up to $1 million.

    Have you ever had your identity stolen? What precautions do you take to prevent identity theft?

    Related Resources

    The Pirates Of The Internet
    7 Tips For Covering Your Ass In Business
    Quit The Internet Copyright Paranoia
    Sky TV - Bad Customer Service Or Theft?

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    16 Responses to “Can You Prevent Identity Theft - Or Is It Over-Hyped?”

    1. Marelisa on December 17th, 2008 11:55 am

      Hi Cath: No, I haven’t had my identity stolen and no one but me has ever bought stuff with my credit cards. I do think it’s vitally important to shred documents with personal information and to be careful with giving out your personal information in response to e-mails. I get tons of fake e-mails (phishing) but I’ve never given them my personal information.

      Marelisa’s last blog post..Five Ways to Keep Your Spirits Up During the Holidays

    2. Brad Shorr on December 17th, 2008 12:31 pm

      Cath, We have never had an identity theft, but we’ve had several credit cards canceled because of stolen or compromised databases. I signed up for LifeLock about 18 months ago, and it seems to work fine.

      Brad Shorr’s last blog post..The Big Three’s Biggest Problem Is Neither Management nor the UAW

    3. Andrew on December 17th, 2008 1:10 pm


      In relation to the ATM machines, you should be very wary to check for devices attached to ATM machines. Also, when typing my pin, I type with one hand and cover the numbers with my other hand, so that no one will see my pin in the event that a hidden camera has been placed near or around the machine.

      Facebook and social media is another area to watch out for. About a year ago, BBC investigators found they were able to use information about people from Facebook, combined with other information about the same person online, and open bank accounts and credit card accounts in their name.

      People should be very careful about becoming ‘friends’ with those they don’t know on social networking sites.

      Andrew’s last blog post..British sex industry - why a proposed new law should be rejected

    4. Betsy on December 17th, 2008 1:17 pm

      Hi Cath - Some of those phishing emails are pretty sophisticated. Pete and I’ve were almost taken in by a couple of them a few years ago. The ones now offering a job with a great monthly wage are really low down varmints aren’t they?

      We have recently cancelled all of our credit cards and will be paying with cash or cash equivalents from now on, so we’re going to be taking extra precautions with our debit usage.

      Not sure exactly how it’s all going to work, but with the changing face of credit practice here in the US (they raise your rate sky-high to usurious percentages for no real reason, reduce your available credit to zero, and ding you with fees and charges at the drop of a hat), we’re happy not to be beholden to them. I think they’ve hoisted themselves on their own petard and we’re going to see a credit crash that will make the housing crash look like small potatoes. So if anyone wants to steal my credit they’re not going to get very far.

      I don’t think we’re alone. I do think opportunists will find a way to scam whatever arises out of the ashes of the current credit system, though. Sorry to veer a little off topic, but I *think* it’s related. :)
      Betsy’s last blog post..AS I WANDER OUT UNDER THE SKY?

    5. Jim Gaudet on December 17th, 2008 3:16 pm

      Hey cath,

      Sorry, i have been crazy busy, I have been only skimming your articles and not commenting.

      I read this one though, very nice.

      The problem with Identity Theft I see is the that people don’t know what to click on.. You go to a site and think you are getting something special, and you do. A virus that steals your info.

      I am knocking on wood right now, because I have NEVER had a problem and been on the ‘net forever!

      Jim Gaudet’s last blog post..Never Get Lost Again, a trip into the future?

    6. Craig on December 17th, 2008 3:45 pm

      Hi Cath, I’m with Betsy on the fact that some phishing emails can be very complicated and although I have been smart enough to realize they were fake, could easily see how someone could mistake it and give out a credit card. Why don’t these go into Spam folders? It seems to be that peoplpe deal with identity theft after the fact, and think it can’t happen to me until it does. I’ve been lucky and have not had any issues. Is really as safe and worth it? I know its only $100, but that’s still $100.

    7. Kim Woodbridge on December 17th, 2008 4:58 pm

      8 million seems like a lot of people. I don’t know tons of people but I don’t know anyone it has happened to. I’ve been under the impression that it was something over-hyped by the media because the media seems to be focused on fear. Maybe I’m wrong.

      I do use a shredder though. Before I had one I would rip important stuff up and then put it in the same bag as the cat litter.

      Is identity theft just using your information to obtain money and credit? Because if they have my identity they should also pay my bills and deal with the legal and childcare issues ;-)
      Kim Woodbridge’s last blog post..7 Secret(ish) Things About Me

    8. cathlawson on December 17th, 2008 5:40 pm

      Hi Mare - Shredding is important. I realised that when a mobile phone bill began arriving to my address, in the name of someone else. Not long before, I’d thrown out a heap of old paperwork, without shredding it. I don’t know how they managed to pull off actually having the phones delivered to them in the first place - I’m guessing it was via redirected mail.

      Hi Brad - it’s good to hear that Lifelock is working well for you. I was sceptical when I first read about it - but they really seem to know what they’re doing.

      Hi Andrew - thanks for the camera tip. I’ll remember that. It is scary that folk are able to use your social media details to commit fraud though.

      Hi Betsy - I have not seen the job offer phishing scams - that is really low.

      I am trying to do the same as you re: credit and debit cards. But trying to get my husband to remember to withdraw cash instead of using his debit card to pay for stuff is a real nightmare.

      But I’ve stopped using credit cards totally. They can really land you in it if they drop your limit, without warning. And I hate the way they move the payment date forward, each month, so it never falls on the same day.

      Hi Jim - it’s good that you’ve been busy. I know what you mean about some folk scamming people. I like how McAfee warns you about sites that could be potentially harmful.

      By the way, I’ll be emailing you shortly about interviewing you for my live the dream series.

      Hi Craig - I know what you mean. A hundred bucks seems a lot, when you haven’t been a victim of identity theft already. I’m betting a lot of people who sign up, have already been scammed.

      Some of those emails are getting more sophisticated aren’t they? And you can understand folk falling for them - especially the job opportunity one, if they desperately want a decent job.

      As you say though - why aren’t they going in spam? I put stuff like that in my aol spam folder but aol keep delivering more of the same. It’s not like it’s just plain old spam - those people are committing fraud.

      Hi Kim - 8mill does seem like a lot doesn’t it? Like you, I used to think it was all over-hyped too.

      LMAO - that’s a good idea - when they catch them they should force them to pay your bills too.

    9. Jim Gaudet on December 17th, 2008 6:14 pm

      @ Kim, that is too funny. I wish I could get someone to pay my bills too… Luckily I don’t have any kids (that I know of).


      Cool about the “live the Dream Series”. That is a good idea..


      Jim Gaudet’s last blog post..Never Get Lost Again, a trip into the future?

    10. chris on December 17th, 2008 8:54 pm

      This is really some scary stuff but it doesn’t meant that we can’t protect ourselves and here you have provided great methods to prevent identity theft.

      chris’s last blog post..All I Want For Christmas?

    11. Davina on December 17th, 2008 9:35 pm

      Hi Cath. We are vulnerable aren’t we? My boyfriend recently gave me a shredder. You’ve reminded me to smarten up and USE it. I agree totally with Andrew that “People should be very careful about becoming ‘friends’ with those they don’t know on social networking sites.”

      I’ve had quite a few people ask me to be “friends” with them on Facebook when I don’t even know them. I recently disactivated my account. I just don’t have the time to manage all that right now.

      Davina’s last blog post..A Positively Dysfunctional Christmas

    12. Kelvin Kao on December 17th, 2008 11:16 pm

      One time I got a call from an automated call from the bank asking about a charge on my card that might be unauthorized in the amount of some 453 dollars. I pressed the “not sure” option to talk to a representative, but the call dropped before I got to talk to one. After that, I checked my account and found a transaction that I did not make. I called the bank and they gave me credit for it. Later I received a letter from the bank saying that it’s now under investigation. I haven’t heard from them again since then.

      Kelvin Kao’s last blog post..A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa

    13. Steve | Trade Show Guru on December 18th, 2008 12:17 am

      Hi Cath,
      The 8 million people figure stuns me, but I don’t doubt it. I wonder how many people are taken advantage of because of their own gullibility and wanting to believe in something too good to be true. i.e. You’ve just won our million dollar giveaway but we need your bank account information to transfer the money to you but first we’re going to need to deduct a small handling fee.
      Always be a bit skeptical and never believe in anything too good to be true!
      ~ Steve, aka the skeptical trade show guru

      Steve | Trade Show Guru’s last blog post..The Ultimate Christmas Gift

    14. Barbara Swafford - Blogging Without A Blog on December 18th, 2008 3:17 am

      Hi Catherine - Those phishing emails are a pain, but many believe them and give personal information to those scammers. It’s sad as they could have their life savings taken away.

      I also think as bloggers we can’t be too careful. As you’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of nutters out there who what to “friend” us.

      I’ve seen many bloggers say, “today is my birthday and I’m 39 (or whatever)”. If that is indeed true, someone trying to steal your identity has one more piece of information about you.

      Whether online or off, we do have to be cautious.

      Barbara Swafford - Blogging Without A Blog’s last blog post..BTW Your BFF Is ROTFL @ Your SERPs

    15. Vered - MomGrind on December 18th, 2008 6:03 am

      It happened to my husband a few years ago. A fraudulent account was opened in his name. The good news: because of the heightened awareness, they believed him right away. Account was closed, we filed a police report and flagged his account. We now monitor our credit report twice a year.

      Vered - MomGrind’s last blog post..Ageism Is The Last Acceptable Form Of Discrimination

    16. Jannie on December 18th, 2008 3:53 pm

      I think we sure need to do all these thigns to keep ourselves safe.

      Unfortunately the banks love passing the cost of fraud down to us, in higher fees and such. Yuck!

      Why can’t these scammers just get real jobs???

      Jannie’s last blog post..Yeah, Cindy Lou Who?

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