Identity Theft and Your Family: Deterring Disaster
I had always thought of myself as a fairly organized and careful person... until this past Monday. In my haste to remove some beach gear from my car, get my daughter settled in her seat, grab my mail, and head out to a dental appointment, I inadvertently left my purse in my driveway and drove over it leaving it in my wake as I rushed off to the dentist's office. Of course, five minutes later I realized what must have happened when my bag was nowhere to be found in my car. I raced home to retrieve it from my driveway only to find it was gone. To say I was devastated is a gross understatement; I pretty much lost it. I panicked as I realized I was uncertain exactly what was in my bag. Which credit cards were in there? Was my ATM card in there? How would I replace my license, registration, and insurance cards when I wasn't supposed to drive without them? And what about things that could potentially create serious problems for other people (i.e., family photos with names, a friend's house-key, my daughter's picture with her name and age on the back, etc.)? I was a wreck. Of course I immediately called and cancelled every credit card I could remember having in my wallet, my husband cancelled my ATM card for me and contacted our health insurance carrier to report the cards as stolen. But as upset as I was, nothing frightened me as much as not knowing what I might have missed. Now, I am thrilled to report that my story has a happy ending; as it happens, a wonderfully kind man had seen the bag in my driveway near the road and picked it up. He had been trying to reach me by calling my office number (not realizing I was out of the office that day). In the end, I went down to my local police department and they were able to contact the gentleman who had found the bag and arrange its immediate return (with everything intact!). But not all stories end so happily; identity theft is increasingly common, and stolen credit cards, Social Security cards, and insurance cards can result in disastrous consequences for cardholders who were unaware of their loss. The officer who helped me shared some valuable tips on protecting your family member's identities that every adult, especially parents, should be aware of; I have summarized his advice below:
- Carry only what you need in your wallet/purse; store all non-essential information in a safe place at home. Never carry spare house/car keys in your wallet/purse (also, never label keys). Make a detailed list of the items you carry with you and store it in a safe place. Keep photocopies of your wallet's/purse's important contents (license, registration, credit cards, ATM card, etc.) stored in a safe place. Never carry your or your child(ren)'s Social Security numbers or cards in your wallet/purse. Never carry birth certificates, passports, or employee ID cards with valuable personal information (Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) in your wallet/purse. Never carry account numbers or passwords in your wallet/purse. Keep the contact numbers and information for all your financial and personal information in a secure place so they are readily available. For PDAs and smartphones: use password protection so that if the device is turned on by an unauthorized user only a log-in screen will appear along with instructions on how to contact you to return the device. You should also keep a backup of your data to use should it be lost and recovered.