As the warm summer days are replaced with crisp fall weather, I’m beginning to plan ahead for winter and make a list of any fixes or updates we need to do around the house before hibernating. I’m exploring all of the usual channels to find reliable, talented, and affordable contractors.
However, being in the identity theft protection business, I can’t help but think beyond simply hiring a contractor. Whenever I give a stranger access to my home — whether it be a housekeeper, babysitter, or dog walker — I contemplate all of the ways in which they could quickly and easily steal my identity. If you’re thinking of hiring a contractor, here are some important reminders and best practices for keeping your home and identity safe from prying eyes.
- Hire someone reputable: If you’re willing to go through the process of hiring a contractor and letting them into your home, don’t just choose the one with the cheapest rates or most tempting promises. Ask friends, family, and people you trust for recommendations. In addition, be sure you research online reviews, how long the contractor has been in business, and whether they are properly licensed and insured.
- Invest in a safe — and use it: If a contractor comes into your home looking for sensitive documents they can use to steal your identity, don’t make it easy for them. Think about purchasing a small family safe where you can lock up social security cards, birth certificates, passports, check books, portable electronics, and any other important personal property.
- Put documents through the shredder: What you consider junk mail could be the golden ticket for identity thieves. Before you allow a contractor into your home, go through your mail pile and shred anything you don’t need that has identifying information on it. That includes those annoying credit card offers or last month’s bills that you already paid. If you need to keep anything after sorting, file it away or tuck it into your safe.
It is nearly impossible to know if the contractor you’re hiring has a hidden agenda to steal your identity, but there are some warning signs you can look out for. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you may not want to hire a contractor who:
- Pressures you for an immediate decision
- Asks you to obtain any required building permits
- Doesn’t list a business number in your local telephone directory
- Knocks on your door offering their services unsolicited
- Only accepts cash, requires 100% payment upfront, or suggests borrowing money from a lender they know
Remember, you can truly never be too careful when allowing strangers into your home, even if you have hired them yourself. Always take the appropriate identity theft protection steps, such as keeping critical documents locked up, and removing any documentation that could give a prospective criminal the information they need to steal and use your identity.