Protecting Your Good Name: Preventing Identity Theft

Recently while giving a presentation to college students on making ends meet after graduation for Money Smart Week Chicago, I was surprised by the number of questions the students had about identity theft and how to prevent it.

While I recommend a few general things like shredding any document that has your name and address on it and choosing the ‘credit’ option when paying with your debit card, the Federal Trade Commission has an extensive page with many more specific things you can do to protect your identity. Here is a quick summary of things you should keep in mind.

1. Protect Your Information Physically: This includes things like putting away financial information if you’re having work done in your home, leaving your Social Security card at home in a lock box (I’m surprised how many people still carry it with them), and requesting to use less obvious security measures than your mother’s maiden name to protect your bank accounts and utilities. These days with everyone and their mother on Facebook, it’s pretty easy to figure out the answer to that question!

2. Treat Your Mail and Trash Carefully: Use post office collection boxes or a secure collection box at work to send outgoing mail and try to pick your mail up as soon as possible each day. And when you’re tossing anything with your information on it, including charge receipts, credit card offers and physicians statements, make sure you shred them before placing in your recycle bin or trash can. I’m often startled by the well-dressed man that regularly picks through the dumpster of my building and will confess that I go to a few extra pains to make my trash extra rank to discourage this practice. Gross!

3. Don’t Click That Link: An identity thief doesn’t even need to be in the same country as you to access your personal information if you keep any of it stored on your computer. All it takes is one click on the wrong link and a savvy hacker could have a field day with your info. I save my tax returns on my laptop to save trees, but I shudder to think that the wrong person might find that information, so I am very careful about links sent to me in emails or even on Twitter and Facebook. Likewise, if you ever list anything for sale on craigslist, you will almost always receive a scam email requesting that you “click here to give me some more information,” from a “very interested and motivated” buyer. Don’t click. Only enter your information into websites if you got there by typing the web address in yourself.

I hope that by utilizing these tips and others offered on the FTC site that you’ll never find yourself a victim of this frustrating and truly life-altering crime. If you do, the same site also offers a thorough process for you to follow to work to get your name back to good. And now, I have some shredding to do!

Kelley C. Long, CPA is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at


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