In today’s world that we live in, we face a variety of threats to our identity, credit history, and our bank accounts. Many of these threats can be found while shopping, using the Internet, or even in your mail box.
Steps to take and things to consider to minimize the risk of ID theft
Unfortunately, there is no SURE prevention, but there are actions to take that limit the damage someone who abuses your name and credit can do.
- Order a copy of your credit report. An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months. To order your free report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com
- Limit your credit cards -periodically go through your cards and cancel those you do not absolutely need or use on a regular basis. Sign the back of cards you do keep with permanent ink.
- Write down all your credit card numbers and the phone number to contact in case of loss or theft and store in a safe place where you can get to the list.
- Make a copy of your driver's license and your Social Security Card and store them with the credit card list. Better yet, place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.
- Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet, unless you initiate the contact or are sure you know with whom you are dealing. Identity thieves are clever. They have posed as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization's website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Many companies post fraud alerts when their name is used improperly. Alternatively, call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.
- Do not carry your Social Security number card; leave it in a secure place.
- Pay cash whenever possible, never give your credit card number to anyone over the phone, if you do pay with credit card, mark out your card number on the receipt that contains your name, card, card number and signature on it – too easy for a thief to take advantage of if they get a hold of it. SHRED everything that contains personal information.
- Put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone.
- Opt out of pre-screening of your credit reports. The number to call is 1.800.567.8688 (1.888.5OPTOUT). It requires one single call for all three credit bureaus. This will stop the arrival of pre-approved credit card offers in your mailbox.
- Be cautious when responding to promotions. Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Treat your mail carefully. Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox.
- Treat your trash carefully. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Finally, below are some helpful points related to your computer:
- Update virus protection software regularly. Install patches for your operating system and other software programs to protect against intrusions and infections that can lead to the compromise of your computer files or passwords.
- Do not open files sent to you by strangers, or click on hyperlinks or download programs from people you do not know.
- Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or T-1 that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day.
Use a secure browser - software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet - to guard your online transactions.