Tip for Protecting Your Identity

I was conducting an annual review of my credit reports on AnnualCreditReport.com on Monday. I save the summary from each of the three credit agencies as a PDF file on my hard disk. I noticed that one of the credit reports left my SSN intact in the report. Since I don't want my SSN visible sitting around to be exploited, I had an idea: to run a search on my PC for my SSN.

I was using Windows XP Pro. I entered my SSN in the 'Search Desktop' box on my toolbar and clicked on 'Search Desktop'. I was surprised at what it found.

I used the same procedure for my birthdate, with two formats (i.e., 1/1/1911 and January 1, 1911) and found more interesting results.

Bottom Line: Search for your SSN and birthdate in all files on your computer.

If your PC gets hacked or stolen, SSNs and birthdates inadvertently left on documents on your hard drive can be used to steal your identity. If you travel with a portable, you are especially vulnerable to theft.

As more people use smart phones and PDAs for personal information storage, the same concerns would apply.

If anyone knows how to easily remove a small block of data from PDF files, please leave a comment.

Reducing Junk Mail and Spam Email

From the blog of Tim Ferriss (author of the 4-Hour Work-week), some advice about getting removed from mailing lists.

Link: » How to Do The Impossible: Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voicemail Again, Never Return Another Phone Call….

…get removed from junk mail lists and common commercial mailing lists. There are a few ways to do this: 1) Get remove from the most common junkmail lists (this costs a few dollars in some cases) and check alternative strategies at www.stopjunkmail.org, 2) Use LifeLock, or another identity protection service, which automatically removes you from large mailing lists, one of the most common vehicles for identity theft. Last, we’ll have your mail forwarded to special processing centers, where it is all scanned and emailed to you. One popular service is called Remote Control Mail, and there are two big benefits to the time-focused and mobile-minded: relevant postal mail is funneled into e-mail, so you can check both email and postal mail at once (“batching” both at the same time); you can travel freely whenever and wherever without ever missing a letter.

Identity Theft (not me!)

Last week my bank called to ask if I had entered some large bill pay amounts in my online bill pay service. They had flagged them as unusual and contacted me. I had not entered those payments.

We think some spyware got on my PC and logged my keystrokes to get my bank login. (I had anti-virus software and a NAT firewal in my router but not anti-spyware). The bank recommended some high-powered spyware detection software and I installed it. The bank set up a new bank account at no charge for me and moved my linked other accounts to the new account. I was able to login to the new account within 24 hours.

I commend Wachovia Bank for detecting the unusual activity. Their customer service was terrific in helping me quickly adjust to the online break-in.

But… when I logged in to my new account, none of my account history had been moved over. The only transaction was my balance that had been moved over to start the new account. It was just like I was a new customer. I called and questioned this surprising turn of events. I was told that my transaction history in the old account would not be available from my new account.

I wish terrible misfortune on all identity thieves.