In our last post, Preventing Identity Theft: Five Pillars of Protection – Part 1, we introduced two of the most important pillars of protection you can lean on to prevent identity theft from happening to you.

These days, protecting your paperwork and securing your electronic access are not just options – they’re requirements. Today, we cover three more areas of action worth including in your identity theft prevention program.

Pillar #3: Beware of Your Physical and Virtual Surroundings
Remember that identity theft is often a crime of opportunity. For both online and public interactions, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the most common identity-theft “opportunities,” so you can best avoid them. A healthy dose of situational awareness (paying attention to your surroundings) is a good way to protect yourself and your identity.

A few practical to-dos:

  • Whenever you are asked to disclose identifying information, it’s a good practice to share only what is essential to the task at hand. When completing forms or responding to queries, leave optional fields blank and optional questions unanswered.
  • In particular, never provide your Social Security number unless you must. You’d be surprised how often it is requested but not required. If you must provide it to proceed, consider whether it’s worth it, and whether the recipient can keep the information secure.
  • Especially if you’re not yet using a more secure, European-style “chip” credit card, be particularly vigilant at ATMs and store registers. Who is around you and what are they doing? Has the device been tampered with? If anything seems “off,” abort the transaction.

While it’s fun to share personal information like your birthday, vacation schedule, pets’ names and personal relationships, this same information can be used against you by an identity thief. Act accordingly when publicizing information in forums such as Facebook.

Pillar #4: Keep an Eye on Your Credit (and Related Financials)
Even the most careful consumer can still fall victim to identity theft, which is why our fourth pillar of protection is how to spot and respond to a breach. Some of the most tell-tale signs of identity theft show up as suspicious information in your credit reports; unauthorized financial transactions; and other anomalies such as bills that fail to arrive, unexpected credit denials, or queries about medical or financial transactions you haven’t made.

A few practical to-dos:

  • Take advantage of your federally mandated, free annual credit reports, using AnnualCreditReport.com. It gives you access to all three major agencies, and is the only service explicitly directed by law to be truly free of charge and other annoying “gotchas.”
  • If anything on any of your reports is obsolete, incorrect or suspicious, take prompt action to address the concern.
  • Especially if you don’t require frequent access to them, consider freezing your credit reports between needs (such as when you are taking out a home loan or applying for more credit). This makes it much more difficult for an identity thief to take out credit in your name. Visit the FTC’s Credit Freeze FAQs page for more information.
  • If you ever suspect or know that you are a victim of identity theft, the FTC offers a detailed, “Taking Charge” booklet, with steps you can take to minimize the damage done.

Pillar #5: Don’t Go It Alone
Just as you still lock the front door even though a determined thief could break in anyway, it makes good sense to embrace these pillars of protection to minimize your odds of falling victim to identity theft. Last but not least, remember: You don’t have to go it alone.

At Thomas Wirig Doll, we regularly monitor new information about identity theft, and add new safeguards to our own account management processes and procedures whenever possible. We also stand ready to assist our clients when questions or concerns arise. As we’ve covered above, government agencies such as the FTC and the IRS offer information, resources and support services to help prevent identity theft to begin with, or to follow up on it when it does occur. Many of these resources are available online and refreshed regularly.

While no one individual or entity can prevent every identity theft threat from becoming a “gotcha,” we can and should form a fifth, and perhaps most important pillar of support for one another. After all, when it comes to building a strong defense against identity theft, we’re all in this together.