Tuesday, August 10 2010
If you're planning to buy a house, rent a different apartment or relocate your family anytime soon, chances are you didn't think that moving could make you the victim of identity theft.
But during a move, homeowners and renters alike are particularly susceptible to identity theft -- a crime which is especially prevalent during the summer, since half of all moves in the United States take place between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
So in addition to packing and coordinating with the moving trucks, you also need to safeguard yourself from fraudsters.
"Regardless of what people say, you can't prevent ID theft. But you can be a lot more aware and take some strong precautions," says Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of consumer services for Intersections Inc., an identity protection company.
Schwartz provided a rundown of simple steps that you can take to minimize your risk of identity theft and maximize your safety and security before, during and after a move:
Top 10 Safety Steps for Homeowners and Renters on the Move
1. Write everything down
Before you move, make a list of all the personal mail you routinely receive. Tell your banks, financial institutions, creditors and others of the move and redirect all correspondence, statements and sensitive mailings to your new address.
Be sure to notify:
a. Retirement accounts/banking institutions/credit card companies
b. Utility companies (electric, gas, water, cable, etc.)
c. Insurance companies (medical, property, renters, fire and auto)
d. Local government agencies, federal agencies & the IRS
e. Healthcare providers
g. Publications to which you subscribe (magazines, newspapers, etc.)
h. Clubs you have memberships in
Alternatively, consider switching to online statements. According to the 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report from Javelin Strategy & Research, consumers with electronic statements needed less time to detect fraud and paid lower consumer costs ($116 vs. $274) than those monitoring paper statements.
2. Submit a change of address form to the U.S. Post Office
Once your form has been filed, double-check the confirmation from the Postal Service to make sure that they list your new address correctly. Your mail should start being delivered to your new residence within seven to 10 business days after you submit a change-of-address filing.
3. Shred all sensitive documents that you won't take with you
Don't leave behind any paperwork, including credit card offers, that con artists can use if they go through your trash. Instead shred them yourself. A good shredder will cost just $50 or so.
4. Thoroughly research your moving company
Mover fraud is on the rise nationwide. To thwart this crime, properly investigate local moving companies by getting recommendations from trustworthy friends, family members, and real estate agents. Also, check a mover's rating with the Better Business Bureau. Finally, only pick a mover that is registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and that has a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDDOT) number. The most reputable ones will supply you this information on request.
5. Remain present during the entire move
This may not always be possible, but just being there with the movers could help deter potential identity theft. Plus, you'll get to oversee any remaining packing or moving activities to make sure things are being handled properly.
6. Transport important physical documents properly
Transfer all sensitive documents – like wills, insurance policies, stock certificates or bonds – to a safe and secure place, such as a locked box, and keep these items with you personally during the move; don't hand them off to your moving company. You can also transfer sensitive documents to an online secure vault.
7. Lock down your computer
Don't make the mistake of leaving your computers (desktops and laptops included) readily accessible to your movers. Instead, secure those items before the movers even arrive. Take all computers, hard drives and other external storage devices with you during the move.
During his last move, "I packed my computers myself and they went in my car," says Schwartz, adding, "That's not a box you want to go with the mover."
8. Monitor bank and credit card statements
After your move, watch for unexplained charges or suspicious activity on your debit and credit cards. But also be aware that credit-related fraud "accounts for only about one-third of identity theft," Schwartz says. Non-credit related problems actually make up the bulk of problems, with thieves stealing your personal information in order to open new cell phones or bank accounts, establish utility services, or even get payday loans and fake driver's licenses in your name.
9. Verify all mail, post-move
Use your previously-created checklist to make sure that everyone you notified about your move has, in fact, started sending your mail to your new address. If something is missing, follow up immediately to make sure mail isn't still being routed to your old address.
10. Create a secure zone
After your move, even though there may be loads of boxes and furniture everywhere, carve out a secure zone – preferably one that's off-limits to movers and others. This is where you'll store computer items, check your data files or do personal financial record-keeping, like balancing your checkbook or reviewing credit card statements.
Regardless of whether you're relocating across town or clear across the country, a move can be hectic and stressful. But by taking some or all of the steps above, you'll help ensure that one important thing – your identity – doesn't get overlooked during your busy transition.