5 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft and Get Organized

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With National Organize Your Home Office Day in March and tax returns due in April, this is the perfect time to organize your home office and personal paperwork. Taking the time to get organized and establish good habits will save you time and frustration in the long run and help you prevent identity theft. I’ve experienced identity theft and let me tell you, you definitely wan to do everything you can to protect yourself. It takes much more time and effort to unravel and clear up identity theft than it does to get organized and prevent it now.

blue document box with "to do" label and pile of paperwork on white wood table

I’ve always been a bit fanatical about staying organized, especially when it comes to paperwork, bills and the home office. After we were victims of identity theft, I’ve become even more focused on staying organized and protecting our personal information. 

5 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

Secure Your Social Security Number

  • Don’t give it out on the phone or to businesses.
    • Never give out your Social Security Number if someone contacts you. If they’re calling you, they should already know your information. You can always tell them you don’t feel comfortable giving out that information and that you’ll call the company back. Don’t take a phone number from the person on the phone. Look the number up on your account statement or on-line so that you know you are calling the legitimate company number. 
    • If businesses ask for your Social Security Number, explain that you don’t feel comfortable sharing your social security number and ask if there is an alternate form of information you can give. Often the business understands and will let you supply a different form of identifying information. 
  • Don’t carry your Social Security Card with you or your Social Security Number written on a slip of paper in your wallet. 
  • Secure your Social Security Card in a safe location in your home.

Create Complex Passwords

  • Don’t use the word “password”.
  • Don’t use the names of your children or pets.
  • Don’t use your phone number.
  • Don’t use the name of your high school, university or any other information you have shared on Facebook or other social media.
pen on notebook with sentences written out next to laptop keyboard

When I was in the military, I had a top secret security clearance. One of the tricks I learned about creating secure passwords is to use a sentence. Create a sentence that you can remember. Use the first letter of each word to create your password. You can insert numbers or substitute numbers for words, such as 1 for I, 2 for to or two and 4 for the word for.  Also be sure to add at least one special character.  I do not use either of the example sentences for my passwords. 

Check Bank and Credit Card Statements Monthly

  • Part of staying organized is taking care of bills and paperwork promptly after it arrives. 
  • Check all bank and credit card statements each month to make sure that there is no suspicious activity.

Laura Stack, The Productivity Pro suggests using the FIRST habit to stay organized. It’s an easy and quick way to keep paperwork organized.

  • File It
  • Recycle It
  • Shred It
  • Take Care of It5 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft and Get Organized in the Home Office [ad] @Fellowes

Collect Mail Promptly and Place a Hold on Mail for Vacations

  • Pick up your mail as soon as possible. Don’t leave it sitting unsecured in the mailbox any longer than necessary.
  • Put out-going mail in a secure postal mailbox rather than your own house mailbox that can be opened by anyone.
  • Place a hold on your mail or have a neighbor collect it when you go on vacation.

This is how we were hit with identity theft. I placed outgoing mail in our mailbox about 30 minutes to an hour before the mail carrier came. I work from home, as did two of my neighbors (one was an artist that threw pottery in his garage with his garage door up). I thought I was safe. I wasn’t. 

Shred Personal Information

  • Shred all documents with any sensitive or personal information.
  • Use a cross-cut shredder for maximum security. 
blue document box with "to do" label and pile of paperwork on white wood table

After our experience with identity theft, I’m focused on taking care of paperwork that comes into our home immediately. Set up a To Do Document Box to collect all daily paperwork. Place any paperwork that comes in each day in the box. Try to take care of it each day, using the FIRST habit, but if  you’re not able to get to it immediately then all paperwork is neatly contained in the To Do Box.

overhead view of open document box filled with papers and paper shredder under the table

I place my To Do Box on the desk right next to our shredder to make it easier to immediately shred any documents with sensitive personal information. You’ll find personal information on confidential documents, school papers and even junk mail. Be alert to shred those unsolicited credit card applications.  

Having the right paper shredder makes all the difference. We’ve depended on a Fellowes shredder for years.It’s done a great job for us for years. As happy as I’ve been with my previous Fellowes shredder, I confess, that I’m super excited about our new Fellowes 12Cs shredder because it has all my must-have features and a couple of extra features.

  • It’s a cross-cut shredder, which is the best choice for preventing identity theft.
  • It has SafeSense® technology to keep children, pets and distracted moms safe. 
  • It can shred up to 12 sheets of paper at one time, which makes the task go much more quickly for busy families.
stack of papers next to paper black shredder
  • It has an easy-to-open drawer that is extra deep. As much paperwork as we shred in my family, this drawer will make the frequent emptying task so much easier. It also has a safety feature that requires the drawer to be completely closed for the shredder to operate (yes, my friends call me Safety Susan).
 recycle paper drawer of paper shredder pulled out

I don’t know if I’m more excited about being able to shred 12 pages at the same time or the easy access drawer. You can find the Fellowes 12Cs shredder at Walmart and decide which is your favorite feature. 

In addition to these 5 ways to prevent identity theft, what are your go-to identity theft prevention tips?

blue document box with "to do" label and pile of paperwork on white wood table

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  1. Susan, this is all such good information. Long gone are the days when you could just toss unwanted mail in the trash! Now we shred everything. We use the shredded paper in the vegetable beds and toss much of it in a compost pile. At times, I give some to my worms, they enjoy eating my private information!

  2. That is a great way to create a good password! Sounds like something out of a movie:) Having a good shredder is a must. It can be very frustrating to shred if it keeps jamming up every couple of pages. I also remind people in northern climates that if they have a wood burning fireplace, it might be worth one final fire before the summer arrives and you can get rid of a lot of paper rather easily.

    1. So smart to use the fireplace, Seana. Since I grew up in a tropical climate, I’d never thought of that. Creating my next password is now going to be very exciting as I picture myself in a spy movie. šŸ™‚

  3. Thanks for sharing these important tips — I worked in banking for 8 years, and have seen many victims of identity theft. It is a nightmare to deal with, and it can take years to get it all sorted out. Preventative measures are so important!

    I wanted to share that I also have a Fellowes shredder that I got 3 years ago. I LOVE it. It is still as great as the day I got it, and it helps me shred my sensitive papers.

    1. Oh, I bet you’ve heard all kinds of identity theft stories! I agree with you, Andrea, prevention is so important because dealing with the fallout of identity theft is exhausting and extremely complicated.

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