In the United States as well as much of Europe, driver’s licenses or passports are the main identification document. In many less technologically developed countries, however, birth certificates are a main source of identification. Birth certificates are a tremendously weak form of main identification, as they do not contain a photo or list identifiable traits and they can be easy to falsify, especially in Puerto Rico. A birth certificate, once obtained, can be used to gain access to valuable information or to get photo identification.
In Puerto Rico, the custom has long been to give a copy of your birth certificate to government or educational institutes as part of registration. This means certificates were frequently lost, forgotten, or stolen and sold to the highest bidder. The average Puerto Rican requests some 20 copies of their birth certificate over the course of their lifetime. Because of the rampant misuse of these documents – both by native citizens inside and outside of the nation’s borders – the government passed a law, effective July 2010, that invalidated any birth certificate that was issued prior to that month.
That’s right, in an effort to combat identity theft and fraud, Puerto Rico made all of its citizens get new birth certificates, which will have new security features to prevent falsification. They have also changed policy to showing the document when necessary, but never giving it to another party or institution.
In less technologically advanced nations such as Puerto Rico, governments have to take drastic steps to prevent identity theft and fraud. And while these problems may be highlighted with the Puerto Rico case, citizens elsewhere aren’t exactly immune from such instances either.
There are a number of ways to protect your identity, whether you live in Puerto Rico or outside of Puerto Rico. Here are a few examples:
Protection Service: Identity theft protection software and/or services, like Lifelock protect you from credit card fraud, identity theft and other forms of criminal activity that may be taken against you by monitoring you and your assets with around-the-clock surveillance.
Shred Documents: Don’t let your bank statements and other important personal information hang around your home for too long. But don’t just throw it away either. Shred it and make it impossible for any lurkers to decipher.
Be Careful Around ATMs: Watch your back at ATMs, especially in crowded areas where a lurker might not look so obvious popping over your shoulder to see what pin number you just punched into the machine for a cash withdrawal.
Don’t Carry Vital Documents: Your social security card holds perhaps the most important numbers behind your existence and if it falls into the wrong hands, it makes identity theft easy. Keep it, and other documents like birth certificates, in a lockbox inside your house, or even better, in a safe deposit box.
Online Buying: Online shopping has become very convenient but be extra careful who you’re giving your credit card information to. Only purchase through trusted sites where you’re assured that your credit card information is secure.