Congratulations! You’ve just earned yourself a big promotion with a hefty hike in pay. And here’s the icing on the cake: Your promotion includes relocation – from Fargo, North Dakota to the more temperate clime and scenically appealing locale of Seattle, Washington. Now for the not so good news: Your relocation puts you at increased risk of identity theft, and that’s the case even if you’re just moving across town.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 11 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Given these numbers, it’s important that you make a constant effort to safeguard yourself against this crime. But moving is an event that literally puts your life and possessions in a state of flux. During this transition it’s especially important that you take steps to minimize the risks of identity theft.
As with many things in life, when it comes to protecting yourself against identity theft, common sense will serve you well. So in today’s post we offer 7 Common Sense Tips For Preventing Identity Theft When You Move.
- Take a “mailbox inventory” – Take note of the all the bills, statements, notifications, magazines, etc. that you get in the mail. Make a written list of these mailings, which will include banks, brokerages, insurance companies, mortgages companies and so on. Check them off one by one. You might even want to skim over several months of your bank ledger to make sure you didn’t overlook anything. Once you’re certain your inventory is complete notify each of these entities of your relocation. Instruct them to redirect all future correspondence to your new address.
On a related note, consider switching to online statements. The 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report from Javelin Strategy & Research determined that consumers with electronic statements were able to detect identity fraud sooner. Plus, these people enjoyed lower annual costs ($116 vs. $274) than those dealing with paper statements. Also, you’ll save a few trees.
- Fill out a change-of-address form and submit it to the U.S. Post Office –Admittedly, this one is a no-brainer. Here’s the key, though. Once you’ve filed the form be on the lookout for the USPS confirmation to (a) make sure your request has been processed and (b) verify that your new address is listed correctly. If everything is in order, your mail should start showing up at your new address within seven to ten business days of your change-of-address submission. At that time review the mailbox checklist you made earlier to verify, in fact, that everyone you notified is now sending your mail to your new address.
- If you’re not taking it with you and you wouldn’t trust it with a stranger: Shred it! – One of the reasons the threat of identity theft increases when you move is that useful (to a criminal) documents are often just thrown away. According to the Federal Trade Commission brochure, Deter, Detect, Defend: Avoid ID Theft, dumpster diving is one of the top five ways identity theft happens.
So, if you haven’t done so already, get a shredder. It’s well worth the $60 - $75 you’ll spend. Then, any document you have that you wouldn’t feel comfortable handing over to a stranger – shred it.
- Do thorough due diligence on your moving company – One mover held a truckload of a family’s furniture for ransom. Another used $600 of packing tape before they finished loading the truck. Another mover never even bothered to show up. Sadly, these are all true stories. Moving industry experts estimate that every year thousands of Americans become victims of unscrupulous movers who don’t live up to the promises they make to customers. But, with proper due diligence you can be sure you hire a thoroughly professional and highly capable mover. One that will make your move as smooth and stress-free as possible.
You can start by getting recommendations from people you know who have used the mover. (Here’s a spot where your social media connections may be helpful.) When you have the recommendations in hand you’ll want to, among other things –
- Check the company’s license and insurance
- Get written estimates from at least three companies
- Determine if the estimate is binding or non-binding
- Go over the fine print
In addition, Stevens Worldwide Van Lines offers these suggestions for avoiding disreputable movers and moving scams: (www.stevensworldwide.com)
- Get in-home written estimates. While there are several online “moving cost estimators,” almost always the only legitimate estimates are those offered by a professional mover who visits the customer’s home.
- Use a company that is certified by the American Moving & Storage Association as a PROMOVER or is an agent of a certified PROMOVER.
- Beware of movers who require a large deposit or require payment upfront for a move or demand cash payments. These are not typical practices of legitimate moving companies.
- Beware of companies with names similar to those of large van lines or well-established moving businesses. A similar name does not mean that the online company is affiliated with a reputable company.
What does this point have to do with identity theft? In general, everything. Because it speaks to the key issue of integrity.
- Secure your computers – If you’ve done your due diligence and hired a reputable mover this probably isn’t an issue. Then again, all it takes is “one bad apple.” So don’t leave yourself vulnerable. Make sure the family desktop computers all have strong password protection. As for laptops, smart phones and other portable device where sensitive information may be stored, pack and transport these devices yourself. Do the same with sensitive documents such as wills, insurance policies, stock certificates and bonds.
- Scrutinize post-move bank and credit card statements – This is something we should all do every month anyway. But post-move is a very busy and hectic time, even more so if it involves a new job or new position in a new city. So make sure you sit down and carefully review these documents for anything that doesn’t look exactly right.
That said, credit-related fraud accounts for only about a third of identity theft cases. Most problems don’t even involve credit cards. Instead, thieves will use your personal information to get new cell phone service, open a bank account, get utilities turned on, get a fake driver’s license – and the list goes on. So, be vigilant. Jump on all of those statements as soon as possible after they hit your mailbox or inbox.
- Get a copy of your credit report – Three months have gone by. Your new job is going great. You’re comfortably settled into your new place and it feels like home. As best as you can possibly tell your identity is still exclusively yours and yours alone. Just to be on the safe side, and for added peace-of-mind, now would be a good time to get a copy of your credit report. As you probably know, you’re allowed one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus.
These reports will list any inquiries made to your credit. Any recent credit report request using your old address is a red flag and you should immediately report it to the creditor and credit bureaus. This activity could be a sign that an identity thief is trying to open an account in your name.
Here are the three credit bureaus and their contact information:
Equifax: www.equifax.com; 1-800-685-1111
Experian: www.experian.com; 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion: www.transunion.com; 1-800-680-7289
A final note along these lines: Consider subscribing to a one-year identity-theft protection plan offered through Experian and available at a reduced cost through Stevens Worldwide Van Lines. This service provides you with timely notification of any suspicious credit-related activity and includes copies of your credit reports.
We live in the most mobile society in the world and I for one believe that’s a good thing. It’s a clear sign of the freedom and opportunity available to us as Americans. And even though moving can bring added headaches and stress, you needn’t become a victim of identity theft in the process. Acting on these 7 Common Sense Tips For Preventing Identity Theft When You Move will help you keep your headaches and stress to a minimum. And your identity exclusively your own.