Taking charge of your personal information is one of the best defenses against identity theft. Personal information can be accessed by would-be impostors through a variety of methods, either digitally or conventionally. While protecting your digital identity has taken the forefront in the conversation about data security, information contained on physical documents can make a fraudster’s job much easier. BBB recommends securing personal documents at home, preferably under lock and key, especially when employing outside help or contractors.
Shredding outdated documents that contain personal information can prevent sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands. Bank statements, pay stubs and medical bills should be shredded after a year and supporting documents for tax returns, not the return itself, should be shredded every seven years.
By simply possessing a name and an address, information that can be found on any mailed document, impostors can apply for credit cards, open utility accounts or alter associated physical addresses under an assumed name. On average, it takes six months to recover from identity theft, depending on the extent of damage done and the length of time that the assumed name has been used. Warning signs that you may be a victim of identity theft include:
• Unexpected banking transactions — either withdrawals or deposits
• Disruption of bills or other recurring mailings
• IRS notification of tax returns being filed in your name, when you haven’t yet filed
• Unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
Identify theft remains one of the largest threats American consumers face. In 2020, there were 4.8 million identity and fraud reports received by the FTC, accounting for almost one-third of all complaints for the year. In Texas, more than 134,000 cases of identity theft were reported, placing the Lone Star state third in the nation behind California and Illinois. Protect your identity by controlling and shredding personal documents, such as:
• Bank account information
• Social Security information
• Credit card applications
• Insurance forms
• Health forms
• Billing statements
Be sure to properly dispose of expired bank cards as well. BBB recommends cutting directly through card numbers instead of diagonally or horizontally across the card. If you are in doubt, keep cutting until the card is little more than a series of squares. It is not possible to shred personal information “too much.”
Across North America, BBBs are participating in “Secure Your ID” events, where shredding services will be offered free of charge for residents. Shredding events are offered in most communities, check local community calendars or visit BBB.org/Secure-Your-ID-Day for events near you. Some events may include an electronic recycling service as well.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov for a customized recovery plan.