We all go to tremendous measures to protect what is ours. We install sirens in our homes to frighten intruders. We set up alarm systems in our cars to scare off robbers.
But what steps do we take to protect our identities?
The new burglary: a personal intrusion
Identity theft is becoming more common today as we exchange personal information in the mail, over the phone, and via the Internet. Dentists, while not at any greater risk than the general public, might seem like more appealing targets because of their high incomes and good credit status. If you own a practice, you could be especially vulnerable to this white-collar fraud when dealing with dental-care billing and payment systems.
Tending to pose more opportunity for a potential identity thief, dentists often share financial matters to outside people such as accountants or bookkeepers who might not be able to distinguish between valid and fraudulent charges.
Maintaining control and ownership over your identity is as much a part of your financial well-being as staying debt free and purchasing appropriate life and disability insurance policies. Just like positioning motion detectors and panic buttons for your home and car, there are easy ways to minimize the risk of someone stealing your identity.
Protect your most prized possession: your identity
- Order a credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, (800) 685-1111 or equifax.com, Experian, (888) 397-3742 or experian.com, and Trans Union (800) 916-8800 or transunion.com.
- Shred materials that contain your personal information (account numbers, passwords, birth dates, Social Security numbers).
- When sharing sensitive information over the Internet, check for “https” at the beginning of the URL. The “s” indicates a secure site.
- Do not provide your Social Security number to companies that do not need it. When supplying personal information, first find out how it is being used.
- Avoid using easily guessed passwords such as your mother’s maiden name or your birth date. Change passwords often.
- Stay alert of billing cycles and inquire about bills that do not arrive on time.
- Retrieve your mail when it arrives to prevent theft of correspondence containing private records. Use public mailboxes to send mail with personal data.
Following these guidelines will deter thieves, but there is no sure way to prevent an identity break-in. If you have an ID crisis, report the crime to one of the major credit bureaus, which will notify the other two agencies. Ask the bureau to place a fraud alert on your file and request a notification if new accounts are opened.
Identity theft might not be as obvious as home invasion, but it can be even more tumultuous to completely rectify. Protect your name, guard your credit. Put an alarm on your identity.
Katherine B. Paal, MBA, CFP, RFC, CTFA
Paal is a Certified Financial Planner at Heritage Financial Consultants in Lutherville, Md., and is an investment advisor representative, registered representative, and licensed insurance broker with Lincoln Financial Advisors Corporation, a registered investment advisor and broker-dealer at1300 York Road, Lutherville, MD, 21093, (410) 339-6675. You may e-mail Paal at [email protected].