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At least 110 million consumers were affected by the hack involving Target and Neiman Marcus retailers. Whether or not millions more will have their identities manipulated and finances ruined within the coming months due to more breaches of security at other stores is anyone’s guess, says identity theft recovery expert Scott A. Merritt.
“By necessity, I became an expert on identity theft. My information was stolen in 2006, and in repairing the damage, I learned some not-so-obvious ways we can all protect against identity theft in the first place,” says Merritt, CEO of Merritt & Associates (scottamerritt.com) and author of “Identity Theft Do’s and Don’ts.”
Merritt’s problems began quickly. While disputing financial charges and dealing with resulting business problems, in 2007 he was stopped for a traffic violation and arrested on a false outstanding felony warrant. He immediately knew why.
“I had to enlist my U.S. congressman and convince the state police, NCIC, FBI and Secret Service that I didn’t commit the felonies. For a few years, I had to prove that the prints did not match the false record in question. After legal action, however, I was able to have this corrected.”
Before you become a victim of identity theft, Merritt offers seven ways to guard against it.
* Understand how and where it happens. Identity theft is like being robbed when you are away from home; most thefts occur in places where you do business every day. Either a place of business is robbed, a bad employee acts improperly or a hacker breaches the office through the computer.
* Secure your wallet’s information. Photocopy everything in your wallet: photos, credit cards (front and back), membership cards – everything. Put the copies in the order the cards are arranged in your wallet, staple the pictures and place them in a strong box or safe.
* Make sure your information is consistent. Discrepancies such as using your middle initial on some documents, and not others, or having different addresses, can wreck havoc in proving your identity, and can compromise your credit score.
* Secure your digital habits and data. Change your passwords at least twice a year on a non-scheduled basis – don’t be predictable. Have a strong firewall if you shop online, and only access sites that are protected by a strong firewall and high industry standards.
* Protect your banking information. While in the bank, keep account numbers and other data out of sight, and avoid stating account numbers, Social Security numbers and similar information out loud.
* Don’t carry around your birth certificate or Social Security card. Unless it’s necessary, keep those vital items in a safe, or at least a firebox.
Published: Feb. 20, 2014 – Volume 12 – Issue 45