During our decade together, my car had become a go-to buddy for long road trips and countless errand runs. I kept her happy with regular oil changes, and she rewarded me by starting in the deepest cold and sprinting through traffic with ease.
But the time finally came. After a mechanic’s estimate priced repairs higher than the car’s value, I realized our shared journey had come to an end.
While shopping for a new car, I realized I had to prep my trusty pal for donation or a junkyard, and it involved more awareness of the types of identity theft than I’d anticipated. As it turns out, your car may contain loads of information on you. It’s worth the time and effort to protect yourself when letting go of an old car, shopping for a replacement and even while doing research on your choices.
Keep in mind these tips on ways you can help to prevent identity theft when making the transition to a new (or new-to-you) vehicle:
- Clean out your car completely. This might seem like common sense, but many people tend to leave personal documents in cars that get donated or junked. A news investigation on salvage lots uncovered documents like tax returns, bank statements, driver’s licenses, Social Security cards and even some blank checkbooks. Be thorough in your cleaning now, so identity thieves don’t clean you out later.
- Be proactive with document handling. Even if you’re a few months away from donating or junking your car, it’s helpful to remove sensitive data now since you may need to get minor repairs or an oil change before making the change. In a recent news story, a deputy prosecutor who handles identity theft cases recommends keeping the registration and insurance card with you and never leaving documents like bank statements or checkbooks in the car.
- Research car-donation charities. Even if you’ve cleaned out a vehicle so it’s entirely document-free, it can still be a target for some types of identity theft through charitable donation. Any vehicle with a gross selling price of over $500 requires an IRS form that captures your Social Security number, and a written acknowledgement from the charity has to include that information. So do your research on the charity and read through the IRS guidelines to make sure the organization complies with tax procedures.
After you’ve discarded your old car, you still need to be careful when buying your next one. As we’ve noted in the past, dealerships tend to pull credit reports in order to determine financing options, but there are other practices that can also lead to various types of identity theft. For example, dealerships might scan your driver’s license into a database or include your Social Security number on documents that don’t really require it.
Although I quickly fell in love with my new car, I still miss my old travel companion sometimes. Fortunately, I take comfort in knowing that she’s in good hands through a legitimate charity — and that she doesn’t have any sensitive information about me that identity thieves can exploit.