Too often we hear about what steps people should take after they have been victims of identity theft and fraud. That’s like telling a batter to wear a helmet after he’s been hit in the head by a baseball.
In a recent news report from a local Fox affiliate in Florida, Jackson Hewitt tax preparer Jessica Douglas said she constantly sees instances of fraud when people come to her to file their returns. Many of these individuals don’t even realize that they have been victimized until months later when they’re sitting at her desk and are blindsided with the news. The Internal Revenue Service sends back a rejection notice, which signifies that someone else has already used your Social Security number to file a return.
Now, Douglas says the IRS will give you a personal identification number that supposedly makes it more difficult for villainous types to steal your identity. But, once again, the catch is that you have to have already been victimized once before you can get a PIN.
Rather than relying on after-the-fact “fixes” that are the equivalent of putting band-aids on bullet wounds, we need to focus on preventative measures that one can take to avoid being an identity theft victim in the first place. After all, if you aren’t taken by fraudsters once, you can’t be taken by them twice. Hence, there’s no need for a PIN.
For starters, everyone should know their Social Security number by heart, and no one should carry their Social Security card in their wallet or purse. If it falls into the wrong hands, it’s like handing over the combination to a safe that holds all your most treasured valuables.
Maintaining detailed financial records and periodically checking your credit report are also very useful identity theft prevention tools.
John Sileo is an identity theft prevention expert, the award-winning author of the ID theft prevention book, Privacy Means Profit, and a keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.