Preventing Identity Theft

November 04, 2010

I was riding home on Chicago’s CTA Bus #22 on a recent evening when I overheard a cell phone conversation going on directly across from me. A young woman, apparently wanting to get a jump on the evening’s relaxation, was ordering dinner for delivery. What caught my attention was that she was providing her name, credit card number and security code, expiration date and her home address--all out loud for the entire commuter crowd to hear. There were several people sitting by her, presumably texting; it’s hard to know if they were really copying down the very personal information she was obligingly supplying to the restaurant on the other end of the phone.

Keep your identity safe
On a professional level, doctors are immersed in the regulatory and technology side of patient data protection, but don’t lose sight of the common sense protections also needed to keep your personal information safe.

And while we usually think of the internet as being a main point of vulnerability, the Federal Trade Commission’s website reminds us that there are a variety of ways in which your identity can be stolen and ultimately compromised:

  1. Dumpster Diving. Identity thieves rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it. Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
  2. Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
  3. Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form. Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
  4. Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.

Preventative therapies
Such activities are crimes of opportunity, so make sure prevention is always top of mind. Keep valuables secured at all times and not left in plain sight, particularly in a car, or a purse slung over the back of a chair. Be careful with your passwords and make sure that they are strong. If they’re easy for you to remember, they’d likely be easy for a criminal to figure out with just a few pieces of key information readily obtainable from your wallet or personal profiles on the internet. Also, you should change your passwords periodically. Invest in a good quality shredder and use it diligently. And most of all, always be cognizant of not openly sharing information--especially not over a cell phone within earshot of 60 complete strangers! 

For more tips on keeping your personal data secure, see the informative white papers regarding online identity safety and preventative measures provided by the Liberty Mutual Group. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company is one of AMA Insurance Agency’s partners, providing auto and home insurance.

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