This article originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent online on December 13, 2007. To see the PDF of the article, click here.
Kevin Bourke’s Top Tips
By Kevin Bourke
Thursday, December 13, 2007
If you’re not already a victim, you probably know someone who is.
Identity theft is a serious problem that some are calling the fastest growing crime across the
Some months ago, I attended a fascinating seminar conducted by Frank Abagnale – a former
identity thief who stole millions.
You know who he is – the author of the autobiography “Catch Me If You Can.” Actor Leonardo
DiCaprio played Frank in the big screen adaptation and Tom Hanks starred as the FBI
investigator who hunted Frank down.
After getting caught and spending several years in prison (both in Europe and in the USA), Frank
accepted an offer of early parole from the FBI in return for his assistance in apprehending other
criminals. More than 30 years later, Frank is still busy helping the FBI track down the bad guys
who try to steal our identities every day.
At the seminar I started to think about how I’m protecting myself, and my family, from identity
theft, and I wanted to pass along some useful tips to you.
1) Use a Paper Shredder Look at it as a long term investment. Buying a good micro-cut shredder
may cost upwards of $150 now, but it could save you thousands in the future if someone decides to
go dumpster diving and use your discarded financial information to steal your money.
Incidentally, Abagnale cautioned against using cross-cut shredders and shredding services.
2) Check Washing Protection It’s exactly what it sounds like. Thieves can actually wash out your
printed ink on your checks and fill in whatever it is they want to. What to do? Buy a good pen. The
ink from some pens cannot be washed off, and therefore provides a greater level of security.
The specific model Frank recommends is the “UniBall 207.” They cost about $1.60 each. Make
sure to use it to write out the entire check including your signature.
3) Credit Check One way thieves can defraud you is to use your good credit to purchase goods
and get cash. So, get a service that alerts you to when these types of events happen that can affect
How to Protect Your Identity Page 1 of 2
your credit. Frank recommended Privacy Guard (www.privacyguard.com), but there are others.
Make sure you compare features before selecting a service.
4) Take Control of Your Data Do you have to order checks with your social security number and
phone number printed on all them? Absolutely not. Do you have to tell a “telemarketer” personal
data over the phone if they cold call you and offer you a credit card or prize? No, ask them to send
you a written application instead, and examine it closely. Your information is your own, so be
careful with whom you decide to share it.
5) Be Wary of Eavesdroppers It may sound paranoiac, but many identity thieves make it their
business to listen in on yours. Stop doing personal business at a telephone booth, or your cell phone
in public. You never know who’ll be looking or listening over your shoulder trying to memorize
the personal information you’re talking about.
As a financial planner and investment manager, I’m not an expert in preventing identity theft. But I
learned a lot from listening to Frank Abagnale and hope you’ll do the same after reading this