Consumer advice: Safeguard personal info to stop identity theft – Waco Tribune

It seems as though a week doesn’t go by without reports of new data breaches. The largest recently was that of Home Depot account holders, putting at risk the personal information of 56 million Americans.

While Target, PF Chang’s and Dairy Queen receive unwanted press as data victims, the fact is most identity theft is a result of a less sophisticated breach. The most common violation is through the physical loss of devices (laptops, tablets and USB drives) and unintended disclosure through misdirected emails and faxes.

Jo’s story is one that Better Business Bureau hears too often. Jo’s identity was stolen, and closing fraudulent accounts opened in her name was only the beginning of her plight. She had to put a freeze on her credit and jump through endless hoops in order to sort out the fake accounts from the ones she needed to live her life.

Even after all of that, it took a long time before her credit report was accurately reporting her credit worthiness to banks and other lenders. It was a seemingly endless nightmare, and what’s worse, Jo didn’t even know how the thieves got her personal information.

Criminals can access your information in myriad ways, from computer tricks, to stealing credit cards and personal documents, to scamming victims over the phone. You can protect yourself from most of these scams by remaining diligent about protecting your identity.

BBB recommends you shred all sensitive documents, never carry your Social Security card, never give out personal information over the phone or to unknown people and avoid suspicious links while online.

BBB also advises consumers to have a document retention schedule. BBB offers the following suggestions:

Insurance documentation: Keep everything as long as you have the policy. Also, save any paperwork regarding unresolved claims and coverage.

Keep utility, cellphone and similar bills only until you receive confirmation that your payment has been processed. The only exception to this is if you are self-employed. Self-employed people should keep these records longer so they can prove any deductions on their tax forms.

Loan documentation: Keep all paperwork until you pay off the loan. Then, you can shred everything except the document that proves you paid in full.

Monthly bank statements: Find out how much time your bank or credit cards give you to challenge incorrect statements. Keep them until you are no longer able to challenge them. This is typically between 60 days to one year after the mistake is made.

Keep 1 year

Paycheck stubs: Don’t throw away your paycheck stubs until you receive your annual W-2 form from your employer. If everything matches, feel free to shred your pay stubs. Then, keep your W-2 forms for at least a few years.

Keep 3 years

Bank statements

Expired insurance policies

Keep 7 years

Tax returns, canceled checks and receipts, records for tax deductions taken. The IRS has six years to challenge your return if it thinks that you underreported your gross income by 25 percent or more.

Keep forever

All paperwork related to bankruptcy, inheritance and wills.

Auditor’s reports.

House or condominium records: It is a good idea to keep documents of expenditures related to house or condominium improvements. Capital purchases that improve or enhance the value of your home when you sell your property may lower your capital gains tax.

IRA contribution records: If you made a nondeductible contribution to an IRA plan, such as a Roth IRA, keep your records to show that you already were taxed for this money.

Adam Price is regional director of the Better Business Bureau serving the Greater Waco area. He can be reached at

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