It turns out that the envelopes contained checks for various things - checks that were wiped clean and filled out by the man in the red car's wife. I remember my mom talking about what a hassle it was to deal with the bank and prove that had been identity theft victims; there were stacks of papers to go through, bank accounts to close, and handwriting tests to show innocence. Seeing what an unfortunate event it was for my parents to go through, I've been leery of letting my information fall into the wrong hands and especially of putting too much personal information out there!
How I Protect Myself From Identity Theft
1 // File away important information in a safe place.
A while ago I bought a fire-proof file box that has a lock on it* and also bought some hanging file folders. I have files for our important information (birth certificates, SS cards, marriage license, Ben's passport, etc.), car loan papers, bank account papers, insurance papers, and tax papers (I do one file for each year). Don't carry around more personal information in your wallet than you have to - I know too many people who always have their SS card on them and it makes me nervous for them.
*Don't leave the key in the lock or you're really not doing much to protect your information!
2 // Shred, shred, shred.
I may be a bit paranoid about this one, but I never ever throw away papers or receipts that have my name, address, or any personal information on them. I haven't gone as far as making sure to shred every single receipt, but I do shred a good portion of them. Also, I cut old credit cards into teeny tiny pieces and throw the pieces away in 3 different trash cans just to be safe. (I warned you about the paranoia. ;)
3 // I'm weary about what I share on social media.
If I tag a location or check in on social media, there's a 75% chance I'm not still there. A) I don't want people to know that I'm not at home, and B) I don't really like having people know exactly where I am. (There are a few exceptions to this, however.) I don't post a lot of information on Facebook or Instagram - e.g., I don't post my hometown, what high school I went to, pictures of the layout of my apartment, etc.
4 // Don't open emails that raise a red flag.
I don't open emails unless I know the sender, the email address seems legit, or I read the first line that shows up and it sounds like a real person. I automatically delete emails that show up with a "no content" warning and I never, ever, ever reply to emails that ask for bank information, tell me I'm being sued and need to pay money, or ask for any other personal information. Even if it's a legit email, I refuse to send my SS# and bank account information over the internet and ask them to call me.
5 // Create good passwords & change them often.
It kills me that people use "Password" or "1234" as their password. How easy it would be to hack into your computer or phone! I make sure all of my passwords are completely random and have a good mixture of lowercase and capitalized letters and numbers. Never write down passwords, and don't use the same password for every single account. If you can lock your phone, do it and never store information on it that you'd regret putting there if someone stole your phone.
6 // Check your credit score often.
When Ben and I were engaged, we had to meet with a church leader each week where he'd give us advice on a variety of things. One thing that stood out to me is that he mentioned checking your credit score every 4-6 months to make sure that someone isn't stealing your identity. The following three companies offer one free credit score check each year: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. If you use Mint to track your money, it'll do an automatic credit score check every few months and we've really liked going that route.
7 // Remember that's what in "public" can, heaven forbid, potentially become public information.
After the checks had been taken from our mailbox, my mom started dropping off mail with any personal information/checks at the post office drive through because she didn't want to risk having mail stolen again. Just like mail, any information you leave out on your kitchen counter could be seen by the plumber, a nosy neighbor, your teenager's friends. Nothing is private unless it's stored and locked away!
What do you do to protect yourself from identity theft?