This topic is especially relevant after Target confirmed a recent unauthorized access to its payment credit card data around Black Friday, potentially affecting millions of shoppers. The following article discusses identity fraud and how to protect yourself.
The following article is by Erik Knight, founder of DirtSearch.org. His bio is provided at the end of this article.
Approximately 15 million US residents have their identities used fraudulently each year with a financial loss totaling upwards of $50 billion. Consumer Reports, a nonprofit consumer watchdog organization, issued a news statement urging online shoppers to proceed with caution when taking advantage of Cyber Monday sales, and other online deals, this holiday season.
The government also recently claimed that 1 out of every 14 Americans age 16 or older was a target or a victim of identity theft, a crime imposing a heavy emotional toll on many of its victims. Those numbers are staggering.
So where should consumers start when protecting their identities?
One background search engine allows you to sift through public records, social media sites and directories to yield a wealth of information in one spot, for free. The site, called DirtSearch can easily find public records on friends, family or loved ones. Recently, the site has expanded into the Canadian market. Consumers may use a background search site such as DirtSearch for a variety of reasons from inquiring about criminal records, civil suits, probate records, to property ownership records and identity theft protection.
Erik Knight, founder and owner of Dirtsearch.org, says that every consumer should take preventative measures to avoid identity theft such as:
• Set Alerts on Yourself: It is important to know what information about you exists on the web and to ensure it is accurate. Maybe you have the same name as someone with a sketchy past or maybe someone has stolen your identity without you realizing it. Search yourself often to know what information is assessable about you.
• Get a PO Box that is not in the same zip code as your house: Change the address and send all of your credit card billing statements to that PO Box so that if someone were to steal your wallet or purse; they don't know the zip code associated with the credit card. This is generally required for big purchases. Most people have the same zip code listed on their driver's license defeating the credit card security measure.
• Set your insurance address for the PO Box: If someone were to steal your car at the mall this holiday season, they know you are not home and your address is listed on your insurance card.
• Set your vehicle registration mailing address to the PO Box: For the same reason as your insurance card, don't give crooks more information!
• Change the deed on your house: In addition, change the to a trust that has nothing to do with your name. Make sure they update your tax mailing address to the PO Box as well. This will keep anyone from finding your property under your name.
• Guard your information online: When shopping online make sure account numbers and passwords are not easily floating around. The most common password is ‘password’, and that is easily hackable. Make sure you are changing your password often and to one that is not so obvious.
• Clear your logins and passwords: If you have been working on a public computer, you need to do this. Change logins and passwords monthly.
• Pay for online purchases with your credit card: Which has better guarantees under federal law than your online payment services or your debit card.
• Monitor your credit report often: Make sure you are keeping track of your credit reports. You are entitled to a free credit report very year from each of the three bureaus (, , and ). Request one every at least twice or three times a year, changing bureaus each time.
Taking control of your personal identity can help avoid a world of hassle during the stressful holiday season. If you detect fraudulent activity, contact your financial institution immediately.
Erik Knight, founder of DirtSearch.org is an identify theft expert and entrepreneur. After a number of people asked him to find information on people their significant others were dating through public records he wanted one place where people could go for free. Today, DirtSearch has continued to grow and improve its accuracy and is the only free online "Background Check" website in the world. The site is fully automated and takes a few minutes to search what would normally take hours or days by hand. Over 130K people a month nationwide use DirtSearch.