Identity theft: By now most of us are aware of its destructive capabilities and potential long term impact on personal finances, credit scores, and good reputations. However, we typically overlook the growing ease with which it occurs, due to the stealthier methods afforded by advancing technology.

“Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Proverbs 2:11 NIV).

This is a great verse, but in the context of identity theft, it may be one we’ve only applied to the surface. In other words, if you’re feeling protected simply because you’ve been keeping an eagle-eye on your personal affects, think again! In fact, the old fashioned method of purse or wallet snatching is now the least common way identity thieves make off with your sensitive information. We must therefore continue to recalibrate our best human efforts with God’s perfect wisdom in order to see the enemy tactics lurking below the surface.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), thieves are now highly sophisticated and rely on a variety of invisible sourcing methods to access our personal information, including:

  • Dumpster Diving – Rummaging through trash for bills, documents and receipts.
  • Skimming – Lifting credit card numbers when processed for payment using a special storage device.
  • Phishing – Requesting or requiring the recipient to reveal personal information under the pretense of being a familiar company or financial institution by way of spam, pop-up messages or official sounding emails.

It’s quite a lot to guard against but creating an environment of awareness is a great first step. As part of the FTC’s ongoing awareness campaign, they have provided consumers with some basic guidelines to help lower their risk of identity theft.

1. Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.

2. Avoid keeping Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) near your checkbook or debit card.

3. Avoid carrying your Social Security card and limit the credit cards in your wallet.

4. Unless you initiated contact with a business, do not share confidential information such as credit card and Social Security numbers, birth dates, or your mother’s maiden name.

5. Be wary of unexpected e-mails or web links requesting personal information, even if they appear to be legitimate, as they are most often phony.

6. Avoid using obvious passwords such as a birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.

7. Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates or employ outside help.

Also, consider that equally sensitive information can be stolen with ease directly from your mailbox. Accordingly, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers its own recommendations for additional safeguarding measures.

  • If possible have mail delivered through a door slot of a locked home or reroute to a P.O. Box. If not possible, be sure to install a secure mailbox.
     
  • Shred pre-approved credit card offers or blank checks from your credit card company that come through the mail. To stop pre-approved credit offers coming to your home, call 888-5OPTOUT.
     
  • Remove yourself from marketing lists by contacting the Direct Marketing Association at 212-768-7277.

Amazingly, identity theft can go undetected for months as thieves frequently change account addresses to prevent their target from receiving bills with on-going fraudulent charges. In conjunction, a thief will pay minimum balances to avoid attracting suspicion or unwanted attention which allows them additional time for fraudulent activity before an account can be frozen. Therefore, as an extra measure of protection it is wise to periodically check your credit report at any of the three major agencies.