According to Visual Economics (graphic included below), if you follow these five steps you will be well on your way to doing what you can control to prevent identity theft:
1. Buy a Paper Shredder
Shred all your junk mail and any documents, papers, letters, bills, or printouts that have any pieces of information about you. Dumpster diving is a favorite pastime of identity thieves.
Cost: as low as $60
2. Lock Your Mailbox
Don’t give thieves a chance to go through your mail before you do. Get a locking mailbox or simply put a lock on your current box and give a copy of the key to the post office.
Cost: as low as $10
3. Cancel Old Credit Cards
If someone has your basic information, they can request a new card in your name. If you don’t use it, cancel it!
4. Don’t Carry Stuff With You
Your PIN number, social security card, and credit cards you don’t use on a regular basis should never be on your person or in your wallet. Keep them in a safe place in case you lose your wallet or get robbed.
5. Monitor Your Credit Report
Check your credit report yourself once a year, and buy a credit monitoring service if you feel like being really thorough. If you catch something shady going on early on, the better off you’ll be!
Cost: $0 and up
Good Advice: These are excellent points, especially since recent research (Javelin Strategy’s 2009 report, for one) indicates that the majority of identity theft is happening the old fashion way, with information stolen from wallets or purses, trash, and unlocked mailboxes or low-quality locking mailboxes, not via ‘high-tech’ online cyber methods.
A Quick Observation: Step #1 is really an extension of Step #2. Most all of what people need to shred to prevent dumpster diving and protect their identity comes from their mailbox. The venerable paper shredder is practically useless if the information is not protected at its source: the mailbox.
Important Caveat #1: This article suggest you can “simply put a lock on your current box and give a copy of the key to the post office.” In reality, this is against USPS regulations. That is, you cannot require your mail carrier to use a key to deliver your mail. I suppose if you live in a town with a population of 800 and are very close with your mail carrier, they may agree to accommodate you. But for the majority of homeowners, this is not a feasible solution.
Important Caveat #2: A $10 locking mailbox isn’t going to prevent identity theft. Mail thieves are adept with a simple tool called a screwdriver, and use them frequently to pry open cheap, low quality locking mailboxes.
Take Home Message: A low quality locking mailbox with a bubblegum lock is not going to keep mail thieves’ hands off your sensitive personal information. To protect your mail and your identity, you at least need a quality locking mailbox made of heavy-gauge steel that can’t be fished by hand or pried open with a screwdriver. These criterion eliminate every locking mailbox available under $100, let alone $10.
Quality Locking Mailbox Options: There are only a few good locking mailboxes, and one of them is the Mail Boss. If you’re looking to save some money on your purchase, support our Mail Boss dealers and buy at your local hardware store. A good affordable option is the Wall Mount Mail Boss locking mailbox, available at a Mail Boss dealer near you for $119. Alternatively, the curbside Mail Boss security mailbox option is available in retail locations for $159-$169. Other quality locking mailboxes, though more expensive, include the Fort Knox and Armadillo brands.