December is National Identity Theft Awareness Month. For drivers, this is a strong reminder that you’re more at risk than folks in nearly every industry, for several reasons. For OTR drivers, being away from home often makes it possible for thieves to steal mail and then start to take over an identity. For OOs, there is a real risk given the sheer number of times an OO needs to give out his or her social security number, which can be used to create new lines of credit in a person’s name.
The examples above aren’t exactly cutting edge, with hackers (likely in hoodies) poring over the computer as they attempt to infiltrate the inner workings of a driver’s finances. Instead, they’re descriptions of common types of identity theft.
The FTC has an amazing set of resources to help prevent ID theft and identify whether you’re at risk. There are a few early indicators, including:
- Something strange on your credit report– AnnualCreditReport.com is a website built to allow individuals to see their credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus once per year. It’s advisable to stagger uses, checking Experian, Equifax and TransUnion every four months, as opposed to all of the bureaus at once, since those organizations are supposed to share information. It’s a great resource for any individual whose bank doesn’t offer free credit reporting. “Something strange” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but the gist is that most folks will be able to explain anything they find on their report. If there is something that seems amiss, it’s important to investigate further. It might be as basic as a credit check for a cell phone provider you’re not actually a customer of. As the FTC says, consider placing a credit freeze or fraud alert with a bureau if you see anything out of the ordinary. This makes it so thieves can’t open new lines of credit in another person’s name.
- Bills not arriving on time (or at all)– For individuals who prefer paper bills to paperless billing, it can be an early warning sign if specific bills stop arriving. With the information in a cell phone bill (phone number, physical address, etc), thieves can start to take over a person’s identity. For drivers on the road a lot, leaving their mail in the mailbox can present a tremendous risk. An obvious workaround here is to have a neighbor or friend pick up your mail while you’re hauling, but a significant percentage of ID theft and ID fraud is committed by people who know the victim. In times of crisis, like a pandemic, typically good people’s motivations can change, so switching to electronic billing is an excellent way to stay safer.
- Bills you don’t expect start to arrive– Perhaps the most scary indicator of ID theft is when bills start to arrive that a person doesn’t recognize. Maybe it’s something simple, like a cell phone bill or a credit card statement. It can also be bills from a doctor’s office, indicating that medical ID Theft has occurred. In this instance, a thief has used someone else’s insurance to cover their medical expenses, leaving the victim to pay whatever outstanding balance is left. If you start to see bills coming in (or you receive unexpected calls from a collections agency), it can be a sign that something is wrong.
If any of the red flags above apply to you, we’d encourage you to visit https://www.identitytheft.gov, a website built by the FTC to help victims overcome the issues they’ll face.
Our team ends many of our conversations with drivers with some version of “stay safe out there.” As we enter National Identity Theft Awareness Month, we mean it in more ways than one.