En español | Planning a move? Look out — you're going to face an elevated risk of having your sensitive data stolen.
"Moving is prime time for identity theft because personal information is constantly shuffled from one home to the next, leaving it accessible to dumpster divers, rogue movers, nosy home buyers and sketchy contractors," says Steve Schwartz, president of Identity Guard, an identity-theft protection service. Here's how to protect yourself, whether preparing for snowbird season or a permanent relocation.
Before the move
Notify the post office at least seven to 10 business days before your move. A change-of-address form to reroute mail is available for free at post offices or online for $1.05 at moversguide.usps.com. Also notify your bank, credit card companies, retirement fund managers, insurance companies (including Medicare), health care providers and utilities.
Expect a letter at your old address from the U.S. Postal Service, as well as from many credit card companies, asking whether your move is valid. These help foil scammers who fraudulently file address-change requests in your name to intercept your mail. Filling out IRS Change Request Form 8822 will assure that tax correspondence doesn't go astray.
Shred all of your sensitive documents. Moving often means getting rid of old paperwork. If tossed into the trash, it may attract dumpster divers. So shred anything that contains your Social Security number, account numbers or other sensitive information.
Rein in identity theft opportunity during open houses. Sensitive documents — birth certificates, passports, wills, tax returns, financial statements, health insurance and medical records (along with jewelry and other valuables, of course) — should be removed from a home being shown, or at least kept in a locked cabinet, says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. The same applies when you bring in contractors for a spruce-up.
Do your homework on moving companies. You're safest with those that are registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and have a USDOT number assigned by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
During the move
Supervise everything. Your presence can deter sticky fingers. If you can't be there, designate a trusted person to be your eyes and ears.
Personally transport the sensitive stuff. Put your important papers and valuables into a locked box and take it with you. Move your computer yourself, too, or at least give it a strong password.
After you arrive
Within 30 days of your move, verify that all mail is coming to the new residence. Ensure that old utility, cable or other accounts have been closed.
Three months after the move, get a free copy of your credit report online at annualcreditreport.com to ensure that no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name. This is especially important for snowbirds. Crooked store clerks know that "with a seasonal visitor, they have a better chance of using that card without getting caught," says Joe Roubicek, author of Financial Abuse of the Elderly: A Detective's Case Files of Exploitation Crimes.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.