Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Steps to protect yourself from identity theft; how to protect your physical documents and ID and protect your electronic or online information. And what to do if you lost your credit card, lost your SSS Id' lost your driver's license or lost your atm card.
It's often been said that we live in the information age. And true enough, a lot of things can be done electronically and/or online.

Unfortunately that opens us also to an additional threat - there's now more opportunity to lose our money when someone pretends to be us. With the right pieces of key information, it's possible for someone to access our accounts and money.

So In this post I'll be sharing some tips to help protect yourself from identity theft.

For physical documents and IDs:

  • List down all the IDs, ID numbers, and Account numbers you have (from your employer, all government issued IDs you have, from banks and any other financial institution, utility companies like electricity, water, cable)
  • Make sure you are the only one with access to the list. If that's impossible don't make the list and just remember; or use codes/mnemonics.
  • The list is to make sure that you can properly account for all of them.
  • For the things that are not in use but you need to keep a copy of (statement of accounts, contracts, certificates, maybe even pay slips) keep them locked away in a safe, metal box, or cabinet. Make sure it's fire and water proof, for peace of mind.
  • For other documents that have limited use (receipts, billing statements) keep a copy of the last two month's and destroy the rest.
  • When destroying them, make sure the identifiers (account numbers, address, full name, etc.) are cut to pieces and will not be readable anymore. Shredding helps, but the usual shredders just cut them to strips. To be more cautious, cut them yourself in irregular patterns or into very small confetti-like pieces.
  • Keep only often-used cards in your wallet. This is usually your payroll ATM and credit card. If you don't drive, remove your driver's license from your wallet.
  • Keep all your other cards in a place where only you have access to.
  • You can have a separate card wallet/holder in your bag (if you're relatively sure it's not liable to just get snatched) or keep them in a locked drawer at home (or in the safe/metal box with the other important papers).

For online documents:

  • Do not let your computer's browser save passwords. You'll have to remember them yourself.
  • You may keep a list somewhere if memorizing is not your strong suit. But make sure the list is secure. 
    • If it's in a file, make sure it's encrypted or password-protected. 
    • Or write it in a way that does not make sense to anyone else. 
    • Or write in a way that it doesn't look like usernames and passwords.
  • Use a strong password. Not an "obvious" choice like birthdays or anniversaries. But something that has recall value to you. And use a mix of small and capital letters, numbers and special characters. Example: 
    • pA$$w0rdKotoNO! 
    • M4K4L!mut@nK0k4y4T0?! 
  • (Obviously, since I wrote that online in plain view of everyone, they're a bad choice now. But the principle/style is still valid)
Also, regularly check your accounts (savings, checking, investments, SSS, etc.) and make sure there and no suspicious activities. Weekly or Monthly seems a good timeline. Quarterly is ok too but maybe stretching it. I know we’re talking about prevention, but an account can still be in some sort of danger without someone getting your username and password - at least not in a way that was because of your lack of effort or preparation.

Have a contingency plan or list of steps to do if the worst happens.

  • Keep your credit card company’s hotline handy. Call them immediately to cancel your card if it gets lost or stolen. It’s easy and relatively painless (except for the wait and fee for the new card – which can be up to Php400 or more). But others may not be as easy to replace.
  • For example, one person I know who lost an ATM had to get an affidavit and wait a few days. When I lost my atm card, I just had to tell my branch and wait a couple of days. It’s advisable to ask your bank what the process is. Things can get complicated if you’re an OFW or you have moved to a different city or province and your branch is now far from you.
  • For a lost driver’s license, you’ll need an affidavit of loss (possibly notarized), valid ID, and go to an LTO branch to get the process started and get your replacement. I’ve heard that it’s also more convenient to go to the LTO office where you got the license or last had it renewed – apparently they don’t always upload data to the server, for whatever reason. You don’t have to go to your “home” branch but it might save you time.
  • For a lost SSS card: get an affidavit of loss (notarized), go to the nearest SSS branch and tell them your SSS ID was lost or stolen. You’ll probably need a valid ID as well.
  • (Each government agency may require their own notarized affidavit of loss. So if you lose all your IDs, it might get expensive. That's why I advised keeping the IDs you don't really need at home.)

Lastly, just be alert. If you've read news reports, most hacking attempts are started through Social Engineering - which is just a fancy way to describe something most Filipinos are already familiar with: someone calls you up, emails you, or - for the particularly daring con-men - talks to you directly, and tells a story to convince you to give away vital information like PIN numbers, passwords, etc. Just use common sense; when in doubt don't give away information and contact the relevant company or government agency through official channels to verify the situation.

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photo credit: voteprime via photopin cc
photo credit: Don Hankins via photopin cc

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