There are three points where bad guys can get your documents: on delivery, in storage, or during disposal.
- To prevent mail theft, use a post office box, a locking mailbox or just pick up mail as soon as you can to keep the window of opportunity for theft small.
- Stop your mail when out of town or ask a trusted neighbor to pick it up instead
- Opt for e-documents instead of paper. Not only will you receive it much faster, you don't have to worry about lost or stolen mail.
- There are websites set up to let you opt out of junkmail, but you have to actually go there and opt-in to the program:
Can you believe the credit reporting companies have the nerve on that site to try to convince you that getting pre-approved credit offers is a GOOD thing!? Just ignore them and follow the opt-out process to cut off their junk.
- Opt-out Prescreen.com – "The official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to Opt-In or Opt-Out of firm offers of credit or insurance". This is really the most important one for ID Theft, but I'll include two of the other best-known options for reducing junkmail in case you want to use those as well.
- DMAchoice.org – The "Direct Marketing Association" will give you the option of limiting or stopping some of the marketing and offers that come to you. According to their website "DMAchoice represents about 80% of the total volume of marketing mail in the United States." Not a bad start…
- CatalogChoice.org – According to their website, they are a non-profit that sends opt-out requests on your behalf to companies who send you catalogs by mail. I have not used this site personally because I don't receive unwanted catalogs, but it was recommended by Clark Howard's site and I think Clark is good people so I'll pass on the recommendation.
At work, it's a bad idea to leave important or sensitive information lying around where just any delivery person or cleaning staff can see them and your home is no different. With family ID Theft being common, it's best to keep your documents stored in a locking file cabinet, a safe, or (what I do for non ID document) just scan them to a computer and then destroy the originals. HOWEVER, if you go with the scan option, make sure to encrypt the files…. especially if you use any kind of cloud storage or backup (make sure any cloud services encrypt your data BEFORE uploading so your files are never exposed).
For local encryption, do your research on available tools to find the right fit (though I use Veracrypt if you want a recommmendation) and avoid using Windows built-in encryption Bitlocker… Windows isn't exactly known for it's robust stability and the last thing you need is for your data to suddenly become irretrievable due to a glitch, errant update, or activation goof.
Though this is far more an issue for offices and worksites, dumpster-diving is still a threat. Bottom line, you should never assume that someone isn't willing and able to go through your garbage to find documents and information they need.
Have you ever read about the guy who ripped up and then taped together a pre-approved credit offer, filled it in with a change of address, sent it in and still was approved for credit? Give it a read... it will blow your mind.
Make sure you get a good shredder which (means cross-cut or microcut) or burn/pulp/destroy important trash in some way. For example, it's not a bad idea to split your shredded papers or cut-up credit cards among multiple trash loads to make sure that even if they wanted to put them back together, they wouldn't have all the pieces.
- Scroll back up and open each of the websites I linked above to get your name off mailing and marketing lists. It's quick, easy, and free.
- Go shopping. See what the options are for locking mailboxes and consider getting one for your mail and/or packages. For greatest effect, actually GET one.
- Encrypt important data! The easy way is to type or paste important information into a word processing tool and password-protect it. It's not a bad option, but is a bit of a kludge.
- The best option is to use a virtual encrypted thumbdrive. To do so, download and run the "Windows Installer" version of Veracrypt from this webpage. Then check out this great intro video to see how to get started and use it (it's only a few minutes long). Note that, when asked, you should make your virtual thumbdrive big enough to store your files, but small enough to copy to an actual thumbdrive. When in doubt, try 16GB
- Go shopping again. This time for a shredder. Then get into the habit of scanning important documents, storing them in your encrypted document or virtual thumbdrive, and then shredding or hiding/locking-away the original (whichever works best for you). Don't have a scanner? Shopping!
Though this will take some time and effort to put together, the more of the above you can do, the safer you are!
Course Guide for: Goodbye Identity Theft
The Internet is an incredible resource, but also a big risk. Besides the various hacks and scams, data thieves (which includes data brokers like Facebook) are using your data against you. To defend against these risks, I have a set of simple countermeasures that will vastly improve your defense online.