Identity Looters

By J. Anthony Vittal

After a disaster, storefronts and shopping malls aren’t the only targets for looters. So is your personal identifying and financial information. Below are suggestions for keeping this valuable data out of the hands of vandals and opportunistic thieves who may be rummaging through your home or office in your absence—as well as tips for what to do if you find yourself the victim of identity theft.

Safeguarding Your Identity

  • Don’t leave personal identifying information—Social Security Number (SSN), bank and credit card information, passwords, etc., unsecured in your home or office.
  • Don’t leave blank checks unsecured in your home or office.
  • Secure the above items in a safe, and then put the safe itself behind lock and key.
  • Neither print nor write your SSN or driver’s license number on your checks.
  • Make sure you use boot passwords to restrict access to your computers and a Windows User password for each user of your computers.
  • Use well-constructed “strong” passwords (alphabetical and numeric characters plus symbols and use of upper- and lowercase) and store them safely in an encrypted and well-protected file. Never write them down!
  • If you use a PDA or similar device, store all passwords there in an application such as eWallet. (To see what applications are available for your device, go to www.handango.com and search under “password.”)
  • To the extent possible, receive your bills electronically instead of by mail. This avoids a collection of paper bills at your home or office.
  • Use online banking instead of checks to pay bills.
  • Confetti-shred all non-essential paper containing personal identifying information and personal financial information.
  • Get yourself fingerprinted at your local police department and, based on those fingerprints, get an affidavit from the police department on the back of the card attesting that they are yours. Make double-sided copies of the document.
  • Keep photocopies of your credit cards, ID materials (driver’s license, passport, etc.), and other important documents in a secure place outside your home, such as a bank safe deposit box, together with the original attested fingerprint card.
    • Provide a set of the copies under seal to at least one other trusted person in a remote location—far enough away to be protected from any disaster likely to affect your home town, but close enough to be able to get to them if you need to re-
      establish your identity.
    • Each set should be enclosed in at least one double-seal Ziplock bag, sealed, in order to protect the documents from water.
  • Write “Ask for ID” on the back of your credit cards instead of signing them.
  • In the event of a disaster, make immediate arrangements with the U.S. Postal Service to hold or forward all your personal mail.
  • Add identity theft endorsement to your casualty insurance policy. Most major insurance companies now offer it at no charge or for a small additional premium.
  • You and everyone in your family old enough to have identification documents, credit cards, etc., should have several “fanny packs.” Keep one for each person near the door of your home, one in the car, and one at the office. In the event a disaster occurs, grab your wallet or purse or whatever else you use to carry your personal checkbook, ID, and credit/debit cards, and the fanny pack, on the way out the door. Transfer all these items and your emergency cash to the fanny pack, put it on, and keep it with you and secure at all times.

Restoring Your Identity

  • If you never have been fingerprinted, served in the military, had a security clearance, or had a U.S. passport, you may find it difficult to prove that you are you. On the other hand, if your bar admissions process included fingerprinting and a background check, the bar admissions agency in your jurisdiction may be a place to start the process.
  • If you have an identity theft endorsement to your casualty insurance policy, your carrier may be able to assist you.
  • Try your financial institution; some have contracted with identity theft resolution providers, such as Identity Theft 911, LLC.

J. Anthony Vittal, the former general counsel of Credit.Com, Inc., and Identity Theft 911, LLC, is in private practice in Los Angeles, California.
He can be reached at .

Copyright 2006

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