Identity Theft: Personal Information
Identity Theft: Personal Information
Robert Siciliano (Identity Theft Expert and CEO) gives expert video advice on: How are we identified in the U.S.?; When is it okay to give out my home address? and more...
How are we identified in the U.S.?
To this very day it is an unfortunate fact that in reality, you and I have not been properly identified. Meaning from birth we were given a social security number which is our account number for who we are. We were given a birth certificate and as we grew older and we were given our driver's license that had our photo on it. And all these forms of identification are supposed to identify who we are. But in reality, they don't identify who we are. They are just paper and plastic documents that are associated with us. But the reality of it is, at any given time anyone can create documents similar to these birth certificates, social security cards, or driver's license's and essentially become us. And all along the line, this social security number is attached to all that information and it's attached to you and it's attached to all your accounts, so that began as your primary identifier. Over the years, that number, those nine numbers, are available in many different places. As it follows us and as it's being used, and as it's in data bases and filing cabinets all over the place, it's also being used for our credit. Now anybody who wants to get credit under your name, just simply gives up those nine numbers, poses as you and simply gets credit under your name and unfortunately it is just as simple as that.
What is a Social Security number and how did it become my primary identifier?
The Social Security number was established via the Social Security Administration back in the late 30s. That was primarily for Social Security benefits. However, in the early 70s banks started to adopt that Social Security number when they were issuing credit cards. That become our primary identifier revolving around our credit. The credit bureaus and the banks started to use that in the 70s and the 80s and again, major corporations, even small businesses, started to use that as a primary identifier for most accounts, whether it's insurance, even your cellular phone bill, your home phone, any utilities and then also for criminal records, etc. It become our primary identifier. It was never meant to have as much responsibility as it does today, and as result, that social security number is in so many places. It's in your doctor's office, it's at the local video store, it's in the utiliity's office and all these people have access to it and that, again, is the key to the kingdom. Anyone that has access to it essentiallly can open up accounts in our name and become us.
When is it safe to give out my Social Security number?
When asked when it is safe to give out your social security number, the answer is never. Unfortunately, you have to give it out at many different points in your life, so when you give it out, I would resist as much as possible. But then in the end, know that your responsibilities are essentially to check your credit report to see if there are any accounts opened up in your name without your knowledge. By checking your credit report you can respond to those companies that issue credit under your name and cancel those accounts before it becomes a major issue for you. Unfortunately, checking your credit report is something that most people don't do all that often. Usually it's someone else who checks those reports, like a bank or automobile dealership, and when they check your credit, usually they either determine if you have good credit or bad credit, and at that time you are either granted credit or denied credit. So what I recommend people do, is to check your credit at least every three to six months, to make sure that there aren't any accounts opened up in your name without your knowledge. The best protection that you and I have available to us today, really is to get involved in credit monitoring services. credit monitoring services are monthly fees that you pay, where you can keep a full account of the information on your credit report. For example, if someone was trying to open an account under my name today, via my credit report, if they were to check my credit, the credit monitoring service would inform me that in fact there is someone checking my credit and then I can shut that account down before it becomes a problem.
When is it okay to give out my phone number?
When it comes to giving out phone numbers, if it's an account that requires your approval, if it requires your authorization or if there is a problem with your account and so on, then you want to make sure you are accessible. So I really don't have a problem with giving out my phone number, though I usually give out my cell phone as opposed to my home phone as generally you are a little more protected in thas aspect. The real problem with give out your home phone isn't so much an identity theft issue so as much it is a personal security issue. This is because giving out your home phone allows a predator to easily know where you live.
When is it okay to give out my home address?
I would only give out your home address when it's absolutely necessary. Obviously, when you're signing up for a utility, you have to give out a home address. When you're signing up for most accounts that require credit, you usually have to give out your home address. I actually have a post office box that I use as often as possible. If I don't have to give out my billing dress, or I can use a different ship-to address, I usually us a PO box, both for personal security reasons and for identity theft reasons. We live in an age where privacy is pretty much out the door at this point. Privacy really is an illusion. But whatever privacy you can maintain by giving out a different address other than your home, I think is always a good idea.
Is it safe to give out my driver's license number?
I would always give out your driver's license number opposed to your social security number if you have that option, because a diver's license number really can't affect you as far as your identity is concerned when it comes to financial fraud. Maybe it's more risky when it comes to criminal fraud, as someone can get a drivers license under your name and they can essentially drive as you and get pulled over for a DWI as you and skip court as you. That's a problem, but giving out your social security number is a lot worse. So if it comes to giving out one or the other, I'd give out your driver's license number.
What is a "credit freeze"?
Credit freezes are probably the holy grail of security. I think it's a great thing to get a credit freeze. Unfortunately, credit freezes are state initiatives, opposed to a federal initiative. Right now, to this date, only maybe half of the United States, in certain states, you have the option to get a credit freeze.A credit freeze is, essentially, when your credit is frozen. Right now, the system of credit is wide open, which means that at any given time, anybody who accesses your Social Security and poses as you can get credit under your name, because your credit is wide open. Credit is no different than having a big sign on the front of you home saying, "The door is wide open. Come in and take everything." Credit is wide open. And so a credit freeze locks, or freezes, your credit; it makes it virtually impossible for someone to open accounts under your name where credit is required.So for example, with credit cards, if you have a credit card, and there's information regarding your credit, you can actually call the credit bureaus and you can tell them to flag your credit for a period of time. They will freeze your credit for about 9 days. Now, that makes it very difficult for somebody to actually open up additional accounts under your name. A credit freeze locks and freezes your credit until you actually thaw it.