While methods used by identity thieves to steal personal information have grown increasingly sophisticated over the last ten years, older methods of stealing personal identification documents through traditional property crimes – including home burglary and theft committed by those you invite into your home – remain common. And, while there are many forms of identity theft that are difficult to prevent, you can control what is available to an identity thief who invades your home.
Most residences hold tremendous amounts of personal information contained within hundreds of documents that have been collected and stored over many years. These documents include: birth certificates; passports; tax returns and wage statements; mortgage, auto and other loan documents; insurance policies; legal documents; estate documents; credit card statements; bank statements; investment account statements; Social Security wage statements; Social Security cards; Medicare and health insurance statements and cards; medical records; voter registration and frequent flyer cards; lists of passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs); and, a wide variety of other personal information and documents.
All of this personal information contained within a single home adds up to a big payday for the enterprising identity thief.
So what should you do to protect your home?
Here’s a simple rule of thumb that everyone can use to reduce the amount of personal information and identification documents available to anyone who accesses your home and thereby reduce your risk of identity theft.
All personal information and documents should be locked away or shredded.
Every home should have a fireproof safe and enough sturdy fireproof locking file cabinets to store documents containing any personal information. Additionally, you should use a safety deposit box at your bank for the most critical personal documents you do not require access to on a regular basis.
Additionally, every home should have at least one good cross-cut shredder. All documents, papers, pre-screened credit offers, advertising and any other material that contains any personal identifying information – even your name – should be disposed of by shredding. Place the shredder at the location where you normally review your mail and immediately shred any junk mail or other documents containing your name, address or any personal or account information that you do not need.
If possible, purchase shredders for several locations around your home including your kitchen and the location where you pay bills and review documents such as a home office.
At least once a year, you should review the documents you are storing in your safety deposit box, safe and locking file cabinets and shred any documents that you are no longer required to legally maintain.
Finally, a cautionary note.
As much as you’d like to believe that everyone you invite into your home – family, friends, guests, home health care providers, cleaners, contractors, service and repair personnel – will not take advantage of your good will and hospitality by stealing your personal information and documents, that is not always true.
A substantial portion of identity theft is committed by those the victim knows personally or has invited into their home to perform services. So, the best way to prevent being victimized by someone in your home is to be sure all personal information and documents are safely locked away where they are out of sight and out of reach from a potential identity thief.