There is no foolproof way to protect against identity theft.
Or so says Covington Police Detective D.J. Seals, who wants to inform, not scare consumers. According to Seals, the best way for a person to protect themselves is to become what he calls "a hard target."
"They are going to go for the easy target," Seals said. "They are not going to hit Bill Gates. They are not going to hit people who are a hard target, usually. They hit the soft targets because they are easier to hit and they probably will not know for a while. If they can keep you from knowing for a while, they will be long gone. Make yourself difficult to hit and perhaps they will move on."
Becoming a hard target starts for most people by monitoring the information they give out on a regular biases. Something as simple as a date of birth can aid a criminal in stealing an identity. Social Security numbers should never be given out.
"If your Social Security number is still your driver's license number, go over there and change it," Seals said. "I just saw that the other day. There is no reason to carry your Social Security card with you. Do not do that. Put it in a safety deposit box, put it in a safe, but there is no reason for you to carry that card around. We are identified in so many other ways."
Though it might seem crazy, Seals has seen people write another important number, their PIN number, on the back of their ATM card and on the card holder.
"Don't do that," Seals said. "Memorize it. It's hard, but it is only four digits; work on it. Don't care it around."
This has become more of a problem as most banks no longer allow customers to choose their own PIN number for security reasons. Before, many people were choosing their dates of birth or their children's dates of birth, which are not difficult to figure out. PIN numbers are now chosen at random.
Seals also advises never to give a PIN number out, even to a friend.
"I just got through working a case where a PIN number was given to a friend a long time ago," Seals said. "Well the card was stolen and the PIN was used and it was the friend. They had remembered it that long."
When using a credit or debit card, shoppers should would be wise to write "check ID" on the back of the card along with their signature.
"In a perfect world, every business would check IDs when you came in with a check, with a credit card, with anything," Seals said. "But how many times have you gone into your local store, used your check and had somebody say, 'Let me check your ID?' Not very often."
Anyone afraid of identity theft should not invest in the new "fast pass" credit cards. Seals calls them one of the worst ideas he has every seen.
"Some of the fast pass key rings won't even have your name on it," Seals said. "You bet it is convenient, but when we start trying to investigate that, that is going to be a whole new facet that we are really going to have some problems with. It's virtually hands free thieving."
Thieves can also gain access to personal information when a person pays off those credit card bills, which is why Seals advises to never put any bills in the mailbox. The only way to keep a bill from being sent to a mailbox is a PO Box, but people can drive the bill to the post office or somewhere where it will be secure when they drop it off.
"We arrest people every year that make their living driving around and going into your mailbox because that little flag is sticking up and nobody is home," Seals said. "They go through the mail until they find something that looks like a bill and then, boom, they have your check."
When people are through with those bills, junk mail or old checks, Seals suggest they should invest in a little piece of hardware to help dispose of the unwanted, but potentially dangerous, papers.
"Buy a shredder and not just any shredder. Get a crosscut shredder that makes little confetti pieces out of the paper," Seals said. "Don't get the ones that make strips. There are people out there who will take the time to put them together like a thousand word puzzle. Shred everything. If you don't need it anymore, shred it."
Throwing anything thing with important information on it in the trash would be a mistake. As Seals notes, the dumps are public and anyone can go through them to find information.
To avoid many of these problems, some people have taken step back in time and are using hard currency.
"Cash is impossible to get your ID from," Seals said. "I know people that every time they get their check, they pay the bills and then cash out a certain amount a week to live off of. They don't use credit card, debit cards or checks except for bills. Not a bad idea if you can do it."