Identity Theft is when someone steals your personal or confidential information and uses it without your permission. They may access your existing accounts or open new accounts or loans in your name for their own use. It’s a crime that can create serious problems with your finances, credit history, and reputation. To prevent identity theft, below are some helpful tips.
Manage Your Mailbox
- Do not leave bill payment envelopes clipped to your mailbox or inside with the flag up; criminals may steal your mail and change your address or get your account information from your bills.
- Know your billing cycles, and watch for any missing mail. Follow up with creditors if bills or new cards do not arrive on time. An identity thief may have filed a change of address request in your name with the creditor or the post office.
- Carefully review your monthly accounts, credit card statements and utility bills (including cell phone bills) for unauthorized charges as soon as you receive them. If you suspect unauthorized use, contact the provider’s customer service and fraud departments immediately.
- When you order new checks, ask when you can expect delivery. If your mailbox is not secure, ask if your financial institution offers a secure check delivery service, or ask to pick up the checks instead of having them delivered to your home.
- Although many consumers appreciate the convenience and customer service of general direct mail, some prefer not to receive offers of pre-approved financing or credit. To “opt out” of receiving such offers, call (888) 5 OPT OUT, a toll free opt out phone number sponsored by the credit bureaus.
- The Direct Marketing Association offers services to help reduce the number of mail and telephone solicitations. To join their mail preference service, mail your name, home address and signature to: Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.
- If possible, pay bills online or place mail containing checks, personal or account information, in a secure post office mail box.
Check Your Purse or Wallet
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended, even for a minute.
- Protect your PINs (personal identification numbers) and passwords---don’t carry them in your wallet. For passwords, use a 10-digit combination of letters, numbers and symbols, and change them periodically.
- Carry only personal identification and credit cards you actually need in your purse or wallet. If your I.D. or credit cards are lost or stolen, notify the creditors immediately, and ask the credit bureaus to place a “fraud alert” in your file.
- Keep a list of all your credit cards and bank accounts along with their account numbers, expiration dates and credit limits, as well as the telephone numbers of customer service and fraud departments. Store this list in a safe place.
- If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number.
Keep Your Personal Numbers Safe and Secure
- When creating passwords and PINs, do not use any part of your Social Security number, birth date, middle name, spouse’s name, child’s name, pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, address, consecutive numbers, or anything that a thief could easily deduce or discover.
- Ask businesses to substitute a secret alpha-numeric code as a password instead of your mother’s maiden name.
- Shield the keypad when using ATMs or when placing calling card calls.
- Memorize your passwords and PINs; never keep them in your wallet, purse, Rolodex, cell phone or computer.
- Release your Social Security number only when necessary, for example, on tax forms and employment records, or for banking, stock and property transactions.
- Do not have your Social Security number printed on your checks, and do not allow merchants to write your Social Security number on your checks. If a business requests your Social Security number, ask to use an alternate number.
- Never give your Social Security number, account numbers or personal credit information to anyone who calls you.
Bank, Shop and Spend Wisely
- Store personal information in a safe place and shred or tear up documents you don’t need. Destroy charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and statements, expired credit cards and unused pre-approved credit card offers and convenience checks you get in the mail before you put them out in the trash.
- When you fill out a loan or credit application, be sure that the business either shreds these applications or stores them in locked files.
- When possible, watch your credit card as the merchant completes the transaction.
- Sign your credit cards immediately upon receipt.
- Carefully consider what information you want placed in the residence telephone book and ask yourself what it reveals about you.
- Keep track of credit card, debit card and ATM receipts. Never throw them in a public trash container. Tear them up or shred them at home when you no longer need them.
- Ask businesses what their privacy policies are and how they will use your information. Can you choose to keep it confidential? Do they restrict access to data?
- Choose to do business with companies you know are reputable, particularly online.
- When conducting business online, use a secure browser that encrypts or scrambles purchase information and make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active.
- Don’t open email from unknown sources. Use virus detection software.
Review Your Credit Report
- Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies every year and make sure all the information is correct, especially your name, address, and Social Security number. Look for indications of fraud, such as unauthorized applications, unfamiliar credit accounts, credit inquiries and defaults and delinquencies that you did not cause. To order your free annual report from one or all of the credit reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll free 1.877.322.8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print the Annual Credit Report Request Form from the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer information page here. You may also contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually, however in this case they will not provide it for free. They provide free annual credit reports only through www.annualcreditreport.com, 1.877.322.8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The major credit bureaus and their phone numbers are: Equifax, 1.800.525.6285; Experian 1.888.397.3742; and, TransUnion 1.800.680.7289.
- Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once each year to make sure that no one else is using your Social Security number for employment.
Source: American Bankers Association, ABA Identity Theft Communications Kit - Consumer Tips