Thursday, June 23, 2005

Update on Identity Theft

As would be expected, my post on this subject generated some additional information from people who've experienced this problem. That said, I want to share some of what's come my way:

As a victim of identity theft myself, I can attest to the importance of shredding everything even remotely personal.

I still don't know how someone got my SS#, but they did and opened several accounts in my name (with companies that don't run credit checks) before I found out about it.

One hint I was given (after the fact) was to use my initials as much as possible. "M" could be Mary, or Michael, or Marvin, or....

A common theme regarding this problem, as well as an interesting suggestion that I never considered. First, there are a lot of companies out there that will hand over accounts, be it for a credit card or loan accounts at the drop of a hat. Frankly I think there should be a law against this, but as I mentioned in yesterday's post trying to make this happen has been very difficult
due to resistance from the financial community. Here's the reality: There's someone out there willing to help that someone trying to pass themselves as you by making it easy for that person to take on your identity, so limiting the chances for this to happen are what you're striving for.

I hadn't considered using just my initials, but that's a good point and it's something I'm going to endeavor to do in the future, though often enough when your signature is asked for it comes after your card or something else with your full name is provided to you for your signature.

This one from Pablo at the Roundrock Journal:

Regarding Point #2 above: Whenever I am asked for my social security number, I say that I don't happen to have it memorized. (And since my driver's license uses a state-provided number, the SSN doesn't appear there either.) You'd be surprised how easily this profession of ignorance generally pushes aside the "need" for my SSN. Sometimes I'll then face a befuddled clerk who must call for a supervisor (who always "passes" me without the magic number), but usually, they just proceed with whatever needs doing and the SSN never enters the equation again.

This is an interesting methodology, though it entails your having to lie (well, some of us do indeed have a hard time remembering our SSNs, though I'd guess that this is not normally the case.) If you're willing to suffer a white lie and then deal with the potential consequences, which could be not getting the services you're looking for, then this is for you. In Pablo's experience it would seem that there's little to suffer, and it makes me wonder exactly how important is our SSN to those asking for it? Businesses seem to be able manage to work around not having a social security number, so why should they "require" it? Given that it's not that important to them or that they can otherwise come up with a way of getting around not having it, I have to wonder what would occur were one to simply say, "I prefer to not provide my social security number." My guess is that often enough the SSN is used simply because it's the simplest identifying number you have available to you, and the business in question doesn't have to go to the trouble of devising something independent that would cause them potential trouble or expense if instead they simply use your SSN.

And lastly, from my friend Hedwig, we're given a biodegradable way of attending to those pesky pieces of paper with personal information on them that you don't want to get out to identity thieves:

Regarding point 3: if you cannot afford a shredder, buy a few gerbils. They make the best (cheapest) paper shredders you'll ever have (without depending upon electricity), and they are fun pets too! I "fed" all the drafts of my dissertation to my office gerbils, and they happily shredded it within hours, and they peed and pooped on the tiny paper remains, too!

But she provides a caveat to this post in a follow-on comment after another reader expressed enthusiasm (Botanical Girl) about employing gerbils:

One thing to remember about gerbils .. unlike a paper shredder, which will stop shredding your couch when unplugged, gerbils are not similarly controllable.

There is ancient philosophy somewhere in that comment. "Confucius say ... "

In this case, I think it's time for Confucius to say it's time to move onto another subject, James.


Blogger she falters to rise said...

My husband recently had his identity stolen. We found out because one of the credit cards the thief signed up for got sent to our house (dumb criminals are the worst). The thief was a guy from the place where we bought our cell phones. He had all of our info from the credit report that they are supposed to dispose of after your credit is approved. Yep, right there for the pickin'.

5:21 PM  
Anonymous pablo said...

After reading the earlier post, I promptly pursued my FREE credit reports. I'm happy to say that everything looks fine for me for now. Since the report is keyed to my SSN, and since all of the accounts reported on are shared with my wife, it may be that she can request her FREE credit reports in about six months. That way we may be able to get our status more frequently than yearly. At least, I hope it works that way.

3:43 PM  
Blogger James said...

Pablo: Actually that should work, i.e. your wife is also entitled to her free report and if most of your accounts are shared, bingo! You had the double for free --- gotta love it!

4:11 PM  

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