December 9, 2007

Protecting Against Identity Theft

What I did in my youth is hundreds of times easier today. Technology breeds crime. --- Frank Abagnale

In Stealing Your Life, Frank Abagnale discusses identity theft. His autobiography, Catch Me If You Can, became a Steven Spielberg movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Abagnale also wrote The Art Of The Steal about protecting yourself against fraud.

Cheery topics indeed. Stealing Your Life is less entertaining than the earlier books because it's closer to our lives. Also, we've heard the messages before. The content has an American slant and there's more "product placement" (a particular pen for writing cheques) and endorsements (e.g., a particular paper shredder).

Don't Leave Home With Them
For identity theft, our two most important pieces of identification are our
  1. Social Insurance Number
  2. birth certificate.
Fortunately, there's no reason to carry either around with us. Very few places legitimately need to know. Unfortunately, too many of us carry such vital identification with us and share it too easily.

Don't Use Your Debit Card
Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Once money's been taken out of your bank account, it's tough to convince your bank that you weren't negligent. After all, the debit card is supposed to be in your physical possession and only you have the PIN. Right?

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that fixing your credit costs $1,200 US and 175 hours of your time.
If you make it easy for people to steal from you, they will. ---Frank Abagnale
I'm now reluctant to use my credit card in restaurants and other places where my card leaves my sight. There's not much choice unless you want to carry extra cash. As a precaution, I use my backup credit card.

Earlier, I wrote about your credit report. Abagnale recommends a regular review to make sure nothing's amiss. He points out that credit agencies are businesses. They do not take responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of the records they hold. Different agencies can have different information about you.

You can get your credit report by mail for free or pay to see it online.

Who Can You Trust?
Abagnale gives examples of unexpected identity theft
  • by payroll staff (have access to your SIN, address, banking information, etc)
  • by parents (taking out credit cards in the names of their kids)
It's too really sad when you can't even trust family. Thieves are getting younger too. Abagnale gives an example of a child charging prescriptions to a parent's card. Age? Less than a month old ;)


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