Most people go along their merry way, making purchases and opening/closing bank accounts, credit cards, and house/car loans. Identity theft does scare them a little bit, but they figure that it’s likely that they’ll never be affected. Unfortunately, that’s probably untrue. Depending on which pessimistic source(s) you trust, identity theft is something we will all have to deal with at some point.
Beyond purchasing (and religiously using) a cross-cut shredder, what can you do? You might consider using a fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies, even if you don’t believe you’ve currently got a problem with identity theft.
Being genuinely concerned about identity theft is reasonable (“Just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you” – Kurt Cobain), and a fraud alert can be an effective way of slowing down would-be identity thieves. Like so many other forms of crime, identity theft is largely opportunistic; the law of diminishing returns and path of least resistance are indisputable components of the craft. If you prove to be too much trouble, they’ll move on to some other, lower-hanging fruit.
Why doesn’t everybody do it? I attended an workshop about preventing identity theft put on by an anti-fraud IRS agent and asked him that very question. His only response was that the fraud alert will lengthen and likely complicate the process of establishing credit card and other financial accounts. It seems reasonable to think that the additional difficulty is just what you want because you’ll have a much easier time of it than anyone else.
I don’t make a habit of opening accounts all the time, so it’s likely to cause me very little trouble. Even if it did, isn’t a little extra work worth the peace of mind?