When Richard Barnhill travels to the Southwest for winter, he takes steps to protect his main residence: Relatives and neighbors drop by to make sure everything is secure.
Despite this, thieves ransacked the retiree’s home and stole, among other items, his late wife’s Social Security card, driver’s license and checkbook, which he kept in a desk drawer.
“I’m a great saver,” said Barnhill, 79, whose wife had kept the house in meticulous order. “I had stuff I didn’t know I had.”
Barnhill, a former parole officer and Green Beret, knew well enough to have relatives call the police, and then change the locks to his house and cars, and to contact his insurance company. But his greatest concern was for the safety of his identity and credit — as well as that of his late wife’s.
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“I was really worried because I didn’t know how many checks were out there,” he said. The process needed to safeguard their identities and credit appeared daunting — involving phone calls, letters, notarized copies of death certificates. “It was very stressful and time-consuming — my daughter and I put in hours to figure everything out.”
Because a Social Security number — along with other identifying information — can be used to obtain credit, Barnhill had to act fast to prevent fraud by taking these steps:
- Placing a fraud alert on his and her credit files.
- Sending letters, along with copies of his wife’s death certificate, to all three major credit bureaus.
- Ordering a ChexSystems report to look for signs of check fraud.
So for snowbirds like Barnhill who travel to warmer climates, here are some tips to help keep the bad guys away:
1. Make your home look lived in. Put mail on “postal hold” and stop newspapers while you’re gone or ask a neighbor to pick them up in a timely fashion. Don’t forget to have your yard maintained and use timers on your lights.
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2. Lock it up. Secure doors and drawers. Store paper files such as bank or credit card statements and earning statements behind locked drawers. Keep important documents such as passports, Social Security cards, and birth certificates in a safe deposit box.
3. Shred it. Buy a quality crosscut shredder and shred everything with your name and address, such as statements and invoices and pre-approved credit offers.
4. Check your credit reports. Review your credit reports from the three major reporting agencies — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax — twice a year. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com, the government-mandated source for free credit reports (you get free access to your reports from each agency once a year, you’ll likely need to pay to obtain your reports more frequently).
5. Tell your banks and credit card companies about your travel plans. Provide them with your cellphone number in case they notice unusual charges.
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