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Shred. Study. Stay Alert.
Three Important Steps Can Foil Identity Thieves

By Paul Gray, Head of Privacy & Information Risk Management, RBC


Raleigh, N.C. – October 20, 2010 – Only a few U.S. states have a population greater than 10 million. But each year, the equivalent of every resident of North Carolina and then some -- or more than 10 million people -- are victims of identity theft. The annual cost: $56 billion. The average victim’s loss: more than $6,000 and 600 hours spent in getting things right again. (Source: Identity Theft Resource Center study, Identity Theft: The Aftermath, 2003)

Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information, such as your name and Social Security Number, or other information to commit crimes. For some victims, the effect can linger on credit reports for 10 years or more.

Information such as your address, phone number, credit card number, bank account number, driver’s license number and mother’s maiden name are a gold mine for ID thieves.

Any of these bits of information alone might not be enough. But two or three combined together can give a thief the ability to open or access bank accounts, credit cards, lines of credit and more. Following the simple tips below can help minimize your chance of becoming a victim to ID theft.

Shred Alert
To make it tougher for would-be thieves, the first thing to do is shred sensitive material. Most office supply stores have good shredders available for $50 or less. It is a worthwhile investment to own and put a shredder to use by shredding blank checks, preapproved credit card forms, old documents with Social Security Numbers or bank statements. If the task is bigger than your personal shredder can handle, keep an eye out for corporate “shred-a-thons” where a large mobile shredder comes to a community site. Another alternative might be community-based organizations that offer large scale, permanent shredding services at their locations for a low fee or donation. However you do it, remember to shred before you toss items that have information that an ID thief could use.

Study Your Information
Know when your bills are likely to be delivered. ID thieves like to pick up mail and then use account numbers they have in hand to enable them to forward your mail to another address – delaying your awareness that someone is tapping into your credit card, for example.

With the right combination of information, ID thieves can do more than use the accounts that you already have -- they can open new ones. The best way to be aware of this kind of activity is to check your credit reports. There are three primary credit reporting agencies in the United States. Each will provide you with one credit report a year at no charge. By rotating your schedule and checking a different credit bureau every four months, you can determine without fee if anyone is taking out loans and credit cards in your name. To request your free credit report, go to this web site authorized by the Federal Trade Commission: annualcreditreport.com.

Stay Alert
Skimming devices installed by ID thieves at gas pumps, grocery check outs and even ATMs can take your credit and debit card information from you as you swipe your card. Skimming devices typically involve extra gear that may make things look a little bulky or out of place at the ATM, such as added faceplates, fake brochure holders and mirrors. If you are at all skeptical about whether a particular ATM is secure, don’t use that machine. (1) Where a PIN is required, cover the keypad with your hand as you key your PIN to deter skimmers’ cameras. [(1)Wall Street Journal, ATM Skimming: How to Spot, Avoid , Oct 10, 2010]

Email scams often are an attempt to connect you to a scammer’s link or website. Once that happens, you might find you have downloaded malicious software. Or the scammer’s email or website could invite you to download seemingly legitimate software, which in reality contains hidden damaging code. Avoid visiting unfamiliar websites that crop up in the wake of disasters, holidays and news events.

Social networking sites provide you – and scammers – with an opportunity to gather lots of information. Be wary of putting more information online than you would be willing to share with a stranger. And remember that things like your name, email or street address that you key in to your profile on a social networking site may be just the combination to allow an identity thief to open new accounts in your name.

Phishing scams involve online requests for information that may appear to be queries from your valid accounts. In one example of these scams, the ID thieves attempt to convince you to provide account information such as PINs and account numbers that will allow them to steal from you online or to gain enough personal data to assume your identity and open new accounts in your name. Don’t provide information in any transaction that you did not initiate. If you think you have been phished, contact the company that appears to be sending the email/request via separate email or by phone to alert them of the activity and to ensure that your account has not been compromised.

Old fashioned pickpockets can make a lot of use out of the contents of your wallet, especially if you carry several credit cards and other information such as your Social Security card. It is best to limit what you carry and to be mindful of where your wallet is at all times. There is no need to carry your Social Security card with you on a daily basis.

When mailing bill payments, drop them in a U.S. Post Office box rather than leaving them out for the postal carrier to collect from your mail box. When you are traveling for vacation or business for more than a short time, have your mail held at the Post Office (www.usps.gov). Limiting access to incoming as well as outgoing mail limits thieves’ access to your sensitive information.

Make sure that your PINs and passwords are not easy to guess: avoid the last four digits of your Social Security Number, your mother’s maiden name or numbers in sequence, for example. Don’t write PINs on cards or carry them in your wallet. It is a good idea to have different PINs for different accounts as well so if an ID thief discovers one PIN, they don’t have all your PINs. Passwords should be complex and be comprised of letters (upper case and lower case), numbers, and symbols.

When conducting transactions online, make sure you are using a secure site that has a url beginning with https rather than http. Keep your anti-virus and anti-spam software protection up to date and make sure that you are using automated updates for all your software.

Consider an ID theft protection service if you think you are not able to take sufficient safeguards on your own. Your bank can suggest one and provide you with contact information.

Although there are no guarantees, taking reasonable precautions every day can make you a less appealing target for ID thieves.

This article is provided by RBC Bank. The information included in this article is not intended to be used as the primary basis for making financial decisions. RBC Bank does not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult your own financial, tax or legal advisor.

For more information, tips and videos, visit RBC's Privacy and Security site.

About RBC Bank

RBC Bank, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., offers a wide range of financial services and advice to individuals, businesses and public institutions throughout the Southeast. RBC Bank’s network includes more than 420 full-service banking centers in six states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia), an extensive ATM network and telephone and online banking. RBC Bank is the 38th largest U.S. bank by consolidated assets, according to SNL Financial’s List of the Nation’s 50 Largest Banks, September 2, 2009. RBC Bank is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) (RY on the TSX and NYSE), Canada's largest and most stable bank as measured by assets and market capitalization. In August 2009, Global Finance Magazine ranked RBC as the safest bank in the Western Hemisphere. RBC is also one of the world's financial, social and environmental corporate leaders, having appeared on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index every year since its creation in 1999. Additional information about RBC Bank may be found at www.rbcbankusa.com.