January 17, 2013
In the upcoming issue of the CU Parent Newsletter, CU Money Sense contributed an article about identity theft. This week, I’ll give a quick summary of the article and tell some personal experiences I’ve had with identity theft. For the full text of the CU Money Sense article, go to the CU Parent Newsletter archive here.
In the Parent Newsletter article, we recommended 5 best-practices to protect your identity. I have never had my identity stolen, but I make sure to do all of these:
- Secure your mail.
- Shred unnecessary documents.
- Check your credit and debit card statements each month.
- Check your credit report at least once a year.
- Be smart online, by using different usernames and passwords.
When I first moved into the dorms, I was not careful to do all of these. I got my mail at the dorm, in a box which I shared with my roommate. I also had to start paying bills for the first time, since they were in my name. I received bills and bank statements, and my roommate would just drop them on my bed if he picked up the mail that day. As you can imagine, I was taking a big risk with all my personal information so easily accessible.
But once I moved out of the dorms and into a house with some friends, we would get mail addressed for previous residents of our house. I trusted my roommate with my information (which could have been a bad decision), but I didn’t trust the people who would live in our house after us. If I had my bank statements and bills sent to my current residence, I might forget to have them forwarded to my new one, or forget to update the address. So I decided then to send everything to my parents’ home in Longmont. Once I get a long-term job and stop moving around as much as I do now, I will use my personal address. But until then, I know that I can trust my parents to keep my mail safe.
However, not everyone can use their parents’ address while they’re in college. But that’s no disaster, because most bills and statements can be delivered electronically anyway. After my freshman year, I switched to e-statements and electronic billing for everything for convenience, though of course it’s safer that way. Xcel Energy now prefers that you set up automatic electronic billing, which is easier than writing and mailing a check anyway. But even so, there are still some official communications that come via snail-mail. Once I’m done with those, I make sure to shred them. When I didn’t have a shredder, I would tear documents into many tiny pieces, and then throw them away in a few different trash cans. I know that makes me sound paranoid, but numerous police officers have told me that people will look through trash and fit together scraps, in the hopes of getting names, addresses, and bank account numbers.
The consequences of identity theft can be severe and expensive. But often the most convenient options are also the safest, like with electronic billing and e-statements. For more information on this stuff, check out the January issue of the CU Parent Newsletter that I linked above.
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