Identity Theft–What You Can Do to Help Avoid Becoming a Victim

In 1736, Ben Franklin famously advised Americans that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While Franklin was actually referring to fire prevention, his advice rings true for myriad other issues including contemporary concerns such as identity theft. 

While identity theft is not a new problem, the number of victims has recently exploded to nearly 1.4 million reports received by the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov website in 2020 (Federal Trade Commission “New Data”). While it is commonly known that identity thieves make purchases in their victims’ names, they also open new credit card accounts, take out loans, and create accounts with vendors such as Venmo, PayPal, etc. (Federal Trade Commission). 

Identity thieves sometimes use victims’ information to receive health services. This results in bills that the victims have to spend time and/or money to clear up as well as compromising victims’ health records. They also may commit crimes under the name of the victim which frequently results in an arrest warrant in the victim’s name. 

Common indirect consequences for victims of identity theft include difficulty obtaining a loan or only qualifying for a higher interest rate on a loan, difficulty purchasing or renting a home, and problems at work including job loss or inability to qualify for a desired job as a result of complications related to the identity theft (Federal Trade Commission). While some victims are able to fully reclaim their identity in a few months, others continue to suffer financial consequences for years or even decades.

Not only must victims spend time and money trying to clear up the fallout from having their identity stolen, but there is also, unfortunately, a significant emotional cost. “Victims of identity theft will feel overwhelmed at times by the psychological pain of loss, helplessness, anger, isolation, betrayal, rage, and even embarrassment. This crime triggers deep fears regarding financial security, the safety of family members, and the ability to trust again” (Consumer Protection Division).

So how can you avoid becoming a victim? The following are some tips that can help you keep your identity safe:

  • Shred expired credit cards and any documents with account information including account statements, receipts, and credit offers. If you do not own a shredder or have enough documents that a home shredder is impractical, most areas have local shredding services that will take care of your materials for a small fee. 
  • Keep your social security card stored in a safe place and do not carry it with you. Only provide your social security number to trusted institutions and only when necessary.
  • In addition to keeping your social security number private, also avoid sharing your birthdate and any other personal information such as bank account or credit card numbers when possible.
  • Collect your mail in a timely manner and put your mail on hold when you are out of town.
  • Create complex passwords that thieves will not be able to guess and avoid using the same password for multiple sites.
  • Avoid using public wi-fi when possible. If you do use public wi-fi, use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect yourself from anyone who might otherwise be able to monitor your online activity (“Identity Theft” USA.gov).

If, in spite of your best efforts, you do end up becoming a victim, report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission online at IdentityTheft.gov or by calling 877-438-4338. You may also want to contact your local police department (“Identity Theft” USA.gov).

Consumer Protection Division

Federal Trade Commission "New Data Shows FTC Received 2.2 Million Fraud Reports from Consumers in 2020"

Federal Trade Commission "What to Know About Identity Theft"

"Identity Theft" USA.gov

Identity Theft Resource Center

Identity Theft Resource Center 2021 Survey Responses

Keep Deer Out of the Garden

Keep Deer Out of the Garden

You’ve prepared the soil and planted your garden, but now you may be faced with uninvited guests. Since deer are creatures of habit and a small number can do a great deal of damage, the quicker you act to deter them, the better. Thankfully, there are a lot of things you can try. 

There are many smells that may deter your local grazers including commercial deer repellents, blood meal, mothballs, fabric softener, decaying fish heads, and garlic (Better Homes and Gardens). Since different breeds and populations of deer have different tastes, you may need to do some experimenting to find what works best, and these methods may need to be reapplied after rain.

Some gardeners hang bars of strong-smelling soaps such as Irish Spring around their plants. Another option is to use a vegetable peeler and drop the soap shavings around low-growing plants. Benefits of the soap method include less frequent re-application (it lasts for about a month), it is not harmful to plants, and it can even decrease unwanted pests such as aphids which the soap dehydrates (Good Housekeeping). Irish Spring is not your only soap option, though you should avoid bars with coconut oil, which may actually attract deer (Good Housekeeping). 

Another option is making your own concoction out of ingredients such as milk, yogurt, eggs, cayenne pepper, garlic, or other strong-smelling substances. There are myriad recipes on the internet if you are interested in this method, the downside of which is obviously that you will be smelling the deterrent too. 

Luckily, there are some plants that deer, like to avoid that, may be more pleasant for the human nose. Lavender, marigolds, and fragrant herbs such as mint, oregano, or catnip can be good deterrents, though you may need to plant quite a few marigolds, and mint plants in the ground can become invasive. 

Hanging pie tins or aluminum cans from stakes, fences, or tree branches can be a great way to deter deer, as they reflect light and make noise, especially if there is a breeze. A similar idea is to install motion-activated sprinklers which tend to startle unsuspecting grazers.

When all else fails, there is also the option of a physical barrier. To keep deer out, you will need a fence that is fully enclosed and at least eight feet high. A shorter fence (six feet or so) may also work if it leans outward, making it more difficult for deer to jump. If you want to avoid a heavy-duty structure, you may opt for a durable fishing line. This method allows for a shorter fence (around three feet) and should include a second fence a few feet out from the first with some ties or other visible material on the lines for the deer to see for best results (Chicago Tribune). 

Whatever method you try, you will achieve the best results if you mix up your approach (unless your solution is the sturdy fence), as deer are likely to realize over time that what initially deterred them is not as undesirable as it at first seemed.

Better Homes and Gardens

Chicago Tribune

Good Housekeeping