Shoppers are often concerned about having to give their Social Security Numbers to so many companies–especially when they have to share the information online. Should you be concerned about identity theft? And what can you do to protect yourself?
Being a mystery shopper does not make you more vulnerable to identity theft. However, whenever you are giving out sensitive information (such as your Social Security Number (SSN)) it is wise to be cautious. For example, make sure that any site requesting your SSN is secure. You can tell if the site is secure by looking at the URL. If it starts with https (instead of http) that is a secure site. Or look for a small graphic of a lock in the status bar (usually the bottom right corner of your browser).
Do not give your personal information at any site you do not trust. Before applying to any mystery shopping company, make sure that they are a legitimate company and that you are at their site. One way to do this is by checking the list of member companies at the MSPA site, or at sites such as Volition.com.
Aside from mystery shopping, shred any sensitive documents, such as those pre-approved credit offers you get all the time, or any documents with your SSN and other personal information.
Of course, even when taking every precaution, your identity may be stolen. States have posted data bases with residents’ private information, hackers may get in to data bases maintained by retailers, laptops with customer information can be stolen, etc.
With identity theft apparently becoming more prevalent, I have wondered about the best way to protect myself. Most of the services I have seen (such as credit monitoring) seem to let you know that there is a problem rather than doing anything to prevent it. Although I have not been the victim of identity theft, I have had to cancel credit cards when I was notified that fraudulent charges were made on the cards. That was enough of a hassle–I don’t even want to think of what it would be like to clean up after identity theft.
When I heard about LifeLock, I decided to give them a try. Some of the services they offer are things you could do yourself, but probably won’t. For example, they will get you off the lists for all those pre-approved credit card offers. I get 10 – 20 of those every week. And, they will automatically request your credit reports from the major bureaus every year. I know that I could do both of those things myself, but I don’t.
More importantly, LifeLock says that they will prevent identity theft and they guarantee that if somehow you still become the victim of identity theft they will restore your name and good credit, and reimburse you for any losses. What impressed me is that they are so confident about their services that their CEO posts his Social Security Number on the home page of their web site. Really. Take a look.
Take reasonable precautions to protect your financial identity. Then, consider the small investment in a service such as LifeLock to provide greater security. I am off to the LifeLock site to sign up right now.
Cathy Stucker is the author of The Mystery Shopper’s Manual.