One day, my sister was surprised to receive a bill for a medical procedure that she had never had. A “friend” of hers had gone to the hospital, and when asked for her information, she had provided my sister’s name, birth date, address and other information that you might expect a good friend to know. My sister’s credit rating took a serious hit, since she wouldn’t pay the bill, and it showed up as delinquent. If she had needed a loan, she would have been denied, or would have had to pay a higher interest rate.
It took months, our uncle the lawyer, and proof that my sister hadn’t even been in the city that the hospital was located in on the date of the procedure, before the situation was straightened out. But she learned a valuable lesson: Anyone can be an identity thief.
Friends and Family — and ID Fraud
According to the FTC (via Yahoo! Finance) nearly half of identity theft is committed by friends and family. That is a scary thought: Your friends and family almost as likely as a complete stranger to steal your identity. This means that you need to be careful about where you leave your information around. I get my credit card and bank statements delivered electronically, so I don’t have to worry about keeping them out of sight of family members and other visitors to the house, but sometimes I leave my purse laying around.
While I’d like to think that my family and friends are trustworthy, it still pays to be careful, not leaving your pocketbook unattended, and keeping it locked up in your room in other cases. It’s a fairly simple matter for someone to sneak a peek at your credit cards, or your driver’s license, to get vital information.
Social Media Friends
Another gold mine for identity thieves is online social media. Family members can get a great deal of information from a social media profile, as can friends with an intention to steal your identity. And, of course, you also face threats from people who friend you seemingly out of the blue, or who visit your social media profile. In order to help protect yourself online, it can help to follow a few basic rules:
- Make sure privacy settings (where appropriate) are tight so that casual observers can’t see your information.
- Do not share a great deal of personal information. There is no reason to share your age or birth year, and you should not put your address on a social media profile.
- Be wary of organizations and people approaching you for donations via social media.
Do not send personal information in emails, and this includes passwords to accounts. You are probably aware of phishing scams, and it is vital that you remain on your guard.
There is no way to completely protect yourself from identity fraud. However, if you are careful about your associations, and take steps to limit those who have access to your personal information, you are more likely to protect your identity, and avoid some of the financial annoyances that come with identity theft.
Miranda is freelance journalist. She specializes in topics related to money, especially personal finance, small business, and investing. You can read more of my writing at Planting Money Seeds.