Thursday, November 6, 2008

Identity Theft: Don’t Help the Crooks

I got an email today supposedly from Wells Fargo security that was so clearly bogus. Every piece of personal identification from Social Security number to the PIN of the ATM card was requested. I deleted the message, but I worried whether some people might be taken in.

Just last night I friended someone on Facebook with whom I had already been in email contact. I was surprised to see that he had his month, date and year of his birth public. This is not a good idea if you want to avoid identity theft. And Facebook provides privacy settings that enable you to keep hidden the year of your birth. I emailed this person suggesting he remove the year of his birth.

I know it’s not possible to keep all personal identification safe. But, for example, when you’re on a cell phone in a public place, it’s probably not a good idea to say all the digits of your credit card aloud. If you must give your credit card number at that moment, step away from everyone within earshot.

Years ago I had a security clearance for a job with U.S. military intelligence in Munich, Germany, when my husband was an intelligence officer stationed there. I still practice some identify-protection techniques I learned at that time. For example, if I’m going to read one of my newspaper subscriptions at the car wash, I remove the visible address from the front page of the newspaper.

We can’t protect ourselves from identity theft, but we can try not to help the crooks.

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