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11 Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

identity theft
identity theft

Identity Theft is one of the by-product of technological evolution. World was more secure when there was no internet, photocopier or scanner. Identity Theft can be disastrous for any individual. Recently one of my client’s Home Loan was rejected because of low CIBIL Score. I advised her to pull out CIBIL Report. When i checked her CIBIL Report i found that Rs 200000 outstanding was written off against her credit card. She never applied for this credit card. The credit card was issued at her old Delhi address before she shifted to Mumbai. It was a clear case of Identity Theft. Worst part is that complete onus is on an individual to prove that he is victim of Identity Theft. In my future post i will discuss how to handle financial frauds due to Identity Theft.

Normally on internet, the discussion on Identity Theft revolve around Online Identity Theft i.e. through internet. In my opinion, offline Identity Theft is more dangerous and easy to execute. Secondly, there is more organized mafia whose job is find potential victims for Identity Theft. Mostly i observed that online Identity Theft is because of mistake from user end which could have been easily avoided but scope of offline Identity Theft is vast. In this post we will discuss tips and tricks to prevent offline identity theft.

Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

1. Photocopy of Documents: Few days back i was watching “Crime Petrol”. It was quite interesting episode related to Identity Theft. Lady A gave her documents for photocopy and told shopkeeper that she will collect in 2 hours. Somehow fraudster steal the copy of documents. Documents were misused by fraudster to get job in Lady A’s  name. Fraudster committed fraud in her company and poor Lady A was caught based on documents. Though police finally caught the real culprit but imagine the trauma undergone because of Identity Theft.

Photocopy shops are soft and easy target for identity theft. With advancement of technology, photocopy machine can retain scanned copy of documents. It is advisable to take photocopy at home through printer only. If it is absolutely necessary to photocopy from outside because of volume then you should get it done only from known shopkeeper. You can also keep extra copies at your home for emergency.

2. Handover Documents only to Bank Executive and Take Acknowledgement: During our day to day financial transactions, we have to handover some imp documents to bank like PAN, Address proof etc. One of my friend who is businessman handover his originals to employee and send him to bank for any such work. I do understand that it is not feasible for him to do everything on his own. At the same time it is suicidal to handover either original or photocopy to 3rd party. It is advisable to handover documents only to authorized bank executive and insist on acknowledgement. In relevant document, also mention the details of documents submitted by you with the bank.

3. Watermark: One of the critical step to safeguard your identity is to watermark all the scanned documents and then take photocopy. Only use watermark copy for any future use. Watermarked copies are very difficult to temper with.  Watermarking can be done using software like pdf writer or image editor. Though its a tiring job but you have to do only once in a lifetime.

4. PAN: Obtaining a PAN is one of the simplest govt process in my opinion. Last year CBDT made verification of originals mandatory for PAN to reduce PAN based frauds. Analysts termed it as “Step Back”, “Return of License Raj”, “Bottle Neck” or “Retro Grade” step. Being an election year and under pressure from govt, CBDT withdrew the circular. PAN is lifeline for doing any financial transaction and process is so lax that anyone can manipulate. I hope new government will take note of this and will re-introduce the circular to verify originals before PAN is issued.

PAN is one of the most misused document for financial frauds and is heart & soul of identity theft. PAN should not be issued / re-issued without verification of originals even if it cause inconvenience to general public. People don’t realize that its for their benefit only.

5. Enquiry in CIBIL Report

As i keep requesting my clients and readers to PULL out their CIBIL report atleast once in 6 months or preferable once every quarter. One of the imp section to look out is “Enquiry Information”. Please check any suspicious entry in the report e.g. if bank A has posted entry related to Enquiry for issuance of Credit Card with credit limit 1 lakh. In case,  you have not applied for any such credit card then immediately you should bring it to the notice of the bank. Prevention is always better than cure and checking “Enquiry Information” in CIBIL Report is one such prevention.

6. Social Media: “Permanently Shifted to Pune” and “No Longer using Mobile No 98107XXXXX” are the two recent updates of one of my wife’s friend. An open invitation to Identity Theft. In my opinion, social media is one of the most dangerous place if not handled responsibly and with caution. Even Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia will rank after Social Media. Social Media is emerging as a new crime hub both for financial and non-financial crimes.

“Too Little on Social Media can be Too Much”. It is advisable to draw a thick line between privacy and social interaction before you post anything through social media channels. Privacy should not be compromised at all and at any cost. Remember for a small mistake you have to pay heavy price.

7. Letter Box: In the age of internet and email, people don’t check their letter box for months. It is quite visible from overflowing letter boxes next to mine in my apartment complex. Its again an open invitation for Identity Theft. We receive bills and statements through snail mail and anyone can easily steal your identity using these document. It is advisable to check your letter box regularly to prevent identity theft.

8. Change of Mobile or SIM: Now a days most of the people change their mobile every 6 months. Also many of us have habit of storing important information on mobile like bank account no, PAN, Passwords, PIN etc. In my post, Whats app – A serious threat to privacy i highlighted threats specific to Whats app in case handset is changed but other information stored on mobile is also at risk. As mobile is personalized device therefore danger of Identity Theft through mobile is manifold. It is advisable that all the data from mobile should be deleted when you are changing it. Mobile should be restored to factory settings. Remove micro SD card and also remove all installed applications. Log out from all accounts sync with the device and most importantly remove SIM card (if you are opting for Nano SIM in new device).

9. Purpose of document: Whenever you are handing over photocopy of your documents, don’t forget to mention the purpose for which the documents is being handed over. For example, if you are submitting document for Ration Card then don’t forget to mention on Watermarked document “Purpose: Application for Ration Card” in either Red or Blue Pen. It will help to prevent identity theft. Secondly, if fraudsters realize that particular person has taken necessary steps to prevent identity theft then they don’t mess around. Only people caught unaware become victims of identity theft.

10. Date of Birth: Besides PAN, DOB is important piece of information for Identity Theft. When i was born, Birth Certificates were not mandatory..Am not that OLD :). My actual DOB is different from what is registered in 10th Class Certificate (DOB in 10th Certificate was considered final). Initially i used to complain to my parents regarding the same but now i realized it was done to protect me from Identity Theft :). Today before i wrote this post, i thanked my father for same as no one know my DOB in 10th Certificate.

11. Beware of Freebies: Last but not the least and most crucial. Don’t share your DOB, mobile no, name etc through feedback forms in Restaurants or to participate in some lucky draw. You can politely say NO. There are no free lunches in this world but others should not have free lunch at your cost :).

Hope you liked the post. Please remember once your details are out in open you cannot control the flow of information. It is advisable to be secretive. Instead of social media, share information through one to one contact. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your privacy and only you can prevent Identity Theft.

Copyright © Nitin Bhatia. All Rights Reserved.

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