With companies selling your personal information and the endless amount of junk mail a lot of us seem to receive, identity theft is becoming more and more of a concern in the back of people’s minds.
What made the issue a priority to me was having a job position doing research and investigative work, where I had what I think was a scary amount of access to people’s personal information. I looked up myself just out of curiosity, and there’s a computer database out there that contains every location I’ve lived since birth, plus my social security and phone numbers!
Then I looked around at how much turnover just the company I was working for had…the wrong person coming through a company like that could do a lot of damage. To the extent that they could however, the company tried to have as many safeguards in checking backgrounds to prevent that from happening.
So what can we as individuals and as a society do about this problem? I think we have to fight it in multiple ways, and while it’s a problem that likely can’t be completely eliminated there’s a lot we can all do to reduce it. Here are some ideas I think would help:
Protecting Yourself as an Individual:
1) Limit who you give your personal information.
In the town where my husband grew up, there was a woman who worked at a video rental store who was arrested for stealing people’s credit card numbers and information and running up charges. The only reason she was caught was she stole a card number belonging to a fellow employee’s mother, who only used it for rentals at that store. The woman had to pay back the money but served little jail time.
While there are legitimate companies out there who do marketing and coupons through their customer databases, there are also others out there who see your information as a way for them to make profit from other companies. At the very worst, there are scams out there who make you think you have the chance to win something but are only after your information.
2) Take yourself off of the pre-approved offers list.
You can contact the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) and request to be taken off their pre-approved offers list. My husband and I both did this, and our junk mail has gone down severely. This will also reduce your chances of someone stealing an offer for credit out of your mailbox.
3) Check your credit bureau report once a year.
You can do this once a year for free. This will help you catch any information that is not accurate. If you run into a situation where your identity has been compromised, you’ll have to fight through it to get it resolved. You aren’t however responsible financially for something you didn’t do.
If your career or something else about your life puts you in a vulnerable spot for people getting your information, you also may want to consider identity theft insurance, the best of which will assign you a counselor to do a lot of the fighting for you.
Protecting Yourself if You’re a Small Business Owner With a Credit Card Processor:
1) Check Identification
Sometimes you can get so excited over a big sale that the idea of offending someone by asking for ID may come to mind. This mistake can cost you a lot of money.
2) For on-line purchases, make sure to get verification through an AVS code of Y or a CVV Match of M.
If you’re not familiar with these methods of verification, call up your credit card processor and ask them for more information. Most business owners may be given this in an initial packet but may not know that these will at least give evidence that the use of a credit card was not fraud. If these don’t check out, don’t force the sale. You’ll have a high chance of getting a charge back down the road.
3) When shipping, use the most accurate form of proof of delivery as you can.
Again, this will help you if you receive a charge back for the item not being delivered or the claim that the purchase was made with stolen information.
4) Be skeptical of large purchases coming from overseas countries where you have no established business ties.
Ask your credit card processor for a list of primary countries where these scams are originating from. Basically you’ll receive a request for a very large purchase from your company and to send it to an overseas address. The credit card goes through, and you send the merchandise. Problem is the information was stolen. Not only do you get hit with lost merchandise but you’ll likely lose the income from the sale.
Larger Society Ideas:
1) Stronger penalties for people who steal the personal information of others.
The problem with a lot of these crimes are that even the people who are caught are barely punished for it. This is something that needs to be treated like any other form of fraud, if not worse.
2) Better safeguards from the credit card industry.
Right now requests for credit are usually just “spot-checked,” such as only 3 or 4 out of every 10 requests are going through a verification process. This is not helping things at all. I’m not saying it has to be government regulated, but as companies they need to step up and do something about it.
3) Better training for merchants from credit card/debit card processing companies.
It’s hard enough being a small business owner without having the potential for finances being ruined because of ignorance. Even if was a short on-line course to inform merchants of common problems and scams, it would save a lot of them from going out of business since they take the hit for accepting stolen cards or information.
Again, this isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight, but taking some steps in the right direction can at least help reduce the impact of it.