Due to the advent of the Red Flags Rule enforcement date on January 1st, the topic of identity theft is all the rage. Certainly identity theft is an issue in the dealership environment, but news flash – car folk are people, too. They have the same risks of identity theft at home as the rest of us do.
Simple precautions can reduce that risk. And I believe that people who take those precautions at home will naturally apply them at work, so dealerships can become safer environments. Let me illustrate with a true story.
A few years ago, I bought my wife a pressure washer for Christmas (please spare me your “Mr. Romantic” comments). I assembled the pressure washer and put it in our shed in the back yard. Then I put the box at the curb next to our trash cans.
I didn’t appreciate that by putting the brightly colored box on the curb I was telling every potential thief driving through my neighborhood that my house had a brand new pressure washer available for theft. And sure enough, within two days someone broke into our shed and stole the pressure washer before my wife ever got a chance to blast the mold off our stucco exterior.
I learned a valuable lesson from this: When you buy an expensive power tool or high-end electronics gear, always put the box in front of your neighbor’s house.
But there’s another lesson to be learned here. Every day, the average American receives credit card statements, insurance invoices, and bank statements through the mail. And a couple times a month, the average American puts checks and account statements in the family mailbox and raises a little red flag to tell the mailman – and every potential thief driving through the neighborhood – that something valuable is in that little box.
Approximately half of all reported identity theft involves the physical taking of a piece of paper. It is simple and often a target of opportunity. Here are a few tips to reduce the risk:1. Switch to online bill payment and banking to the extent possible. This will eliminate numerous account statements that come to your home every month. But online bill payment presents its own set of risks, so… 2. Make sure you use strong passwords. At least seven characters, including numbers and special characters. “Xfh#L5>” is a very strong password. “Password” is not. Neither is your birthday. Create something between the two extremes and do NOT write it on a yellow sticky note on your monitor! 3. Mail bills you can’t pay online from the post office. Putting statements and your personal checks in an unsecured mailbox in front of your house and raising the flag is just a bad idea. So mail those bills from a post office or public drop box. 4. Reduce or eliminate unsolicited pre-approved credit offers. Thieves can take these offers, fill them out, and receive credit cards in your name. This is not a good thing. Opting out of these offers will cut down on the junk mail you receive, which is a good thing. And it’s easy. Here’s what you do: go to www.optoutprescreen.com. Follow the prompts. That’s it (I told you it was easy). 5. Listen to your mother. Remember when your mom told you to clean up your room? It’s still good advice. If you’re anything like me, there is a spot in your home overflowing with bills to be paid, tuition and insurance statements, and so on. At our home, it’s called “Mom’s Corner,” and it like a snowdrift. All that non-public personal information (“NPI”) is in plain sight of every houseguest, cleaning person, and friend of our seven kids. Keep the NPI out of sight! Locked up is even better, though to be fair, mom never yelled at me to lock up my room. 6. Treat your computer like a safe deposit box. Chances are your personal computer contains a ton of NPI. When you upgrade to the new MacBook Pro, make sure you totally erase or destroy the hard drive in the computer you are disposing of. Merely deleting the data and reformatting the hard drive is not enough. Either use a product like ShredXP or literally take a hammer to it. In particular, DO NOT donate your old computers to Goodwill or other charities without taking this step. And smash those CDs/DVDs that contain NPI when you no longer need them. 7. Buy a shredder. When you’re done with bills, statements, and anything else that contains NPI, shred the documents. Merely throwing them out makes your trash can a treasure chest for identity thieves. Place the shredder – they’re cheap – near where you pay your bills. Then get in the habit of using it.
Once you take these actions at home, it will be second nature to apply them to the dealership and both will be more secure.
Now I’ve got to head out and buy my wife a shredder for home. Easter or Mother’s Day is just around the corner!