In the age of smartphones and mobile devices, many of us haven’t used a physical phonebook in years. Some communities have even ceased delivery of the doorstop-sized tomes to homes and businesses. Before the Internet, refusing to list one’s number in the phonebook was a bit unusual: a good way to filter unwanted calls and maintain privacy from solicitors. Today, keeping your contact information guarded can be an effective way to protect against identity theft.
Typical phonebook entries often include a person’s first and last name (sometimes even a middle initial), spouse, home address and land line telephone number. As identity thieves turn to synthetic identity fraud, small parcels of information like the data listed in public directories can provide a point-of-entry for ID theft . Today, these white pages exist in print and online, exposing personal information to an even larger audience of potential thieves.
In Wilmington, California, a man was arrested after cruising these resources for targets. According to the Daily Breeze, one victim received a bill for more than $43,000 in fraudulent credit charges.
“Police said [the culprit] found victims’ names in the White Pages, then used various ‘people finder’ Web sites to obtain bits and pieces of background information and Social Security Numbers to apply for credit,” reports Larry Altman. “Once he had credit cards, he would also buy gift cards and use those to make purchases.”
For consumer protection, it’s much easier to prevent a new number from entering the public arena than it is to scrub contact information that’s already been published online. When opening a new phone line, your service carrier should give you the opportunity to keep the details private.
“Tell your service provider that you do not want your cell phone number listed when you sign up for service,” writes Suzanne Rose of The Houston Chronicle. “Your carrier might offer two options: ‘unpublished’ and ‘unlisted.’ Choose both. If you sign up for service online or through a store that is unable to modify this feature, call your carrier’s customer service department to request either or both options if available.”
Phonebooks aren’t the only public directories to avoid participating in. Your church, children’s school and other organizations you belong to may compile contact information that thieves can exploit. Declining to publish your information in these registers may eliminate an avenue for ID theft to take place. As a rule of thumb, if someone needs your contact information, give it to them in person. Directories may be convenient for acquaintances and associates to use, but are they worth losing your financial security over? As with many ID theft precautions, consumers are better safe than sorry.
Even the most careful consumers can become victims of identity theft. That’s why it’s important not to leave traces of personal data in public view. For additional protection, invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activity that may indicate fraud. With that information, you’ll know whether you have to obtain a credit freeze or pursue damages related to your compromised identity.