I was skimming through a magazine at my hair salon when I couldn’t help overhearing an identity thief's dream come true.
Another customer came into the salon and started talking loudly on her cell phone. Within the first 40-odd seconds of her conversation, she had given the keys to her identity to any thief within earshot.
Not only did she say her first and last name, but she went on to announce her credit card number, the card’s expiration date and the magic three-digit security code on the back of her card. And she kept on talking.
Anyone around her could have written down, texted or memorized her now not-so-private information and used it against her.
Now more than ever, we have to keep our personal information personal. Identity theft – when someone steals and then uses your personal information – can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history and reputation, the Federal Trade Commission says.
"One of the major problems is that people don't think it will happen to them," says Dubuque Police Lt. Scott Baxter, a crime prevention officer. "Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes. For us to turn a blind eye and have a false sense of security, this definitely isn't the time to do that."
Steve Ervolino, senior vice president of information services at Dupaco, says there are two questions we have to start asking ourselves to help safeguard our identities:
- Do I know who I am dealing with? Never give your personal information to an unsolicited caller. Many scammers claim to be calling from a business or financial institution and ask you to "verify your information." Hang up, and call the business directly. "It’s really about having an awareness of who is on the other end of the line," Ervolino says. The same goes for when you're online. Scammers send e-mails that appear to be coming from Walmart, Amazon, your credit union, you name it. You're directed to click on a link that will bring you to your "account." Instead, victims who click on these links either infect their computer with malware or end up potentially divulging personal information to scammers.
- Does it pass the smell test? In other words, does it make sense? Maybe you get an e-mail telling you to click on a link to take you to your rewards balance. Or maybe you’re promised a gift card for completing a "company" survey. "A lot of people are too quick to give their information up, especially when they're motivated by a reward involved," Ervolino says. "Random phone calls and e-mails are the real big ones that people are getting burned by. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn't."
For information about repairing identity theft, visit the FTC's identity theft page.
By Emily Kittle