Identity Theft: Ways to Protect Yourself
Tips on Protecting Yourself from the Risk of Identity Theft
Identity Theft costs consumers, businesses and financial institutions billions of dollars each year. When thieves gain control of your financial information, they can not only steal money that you already have, but can obtain new credit in your name and ruin your credit history.
There are many ways that identity thieves use to gain your personal financial information. In addition to stealing your wallet or purse, just a few common ways include going through your trash “dumpster diving”, stealing your mail, posing as a business or survey company and calling you over the phone (pretext calling) or sending email (phishing), or hacking into your computer or using spyware to gain your personal information. Some ways include using high-tech devices to skim debit and credit card information from unsuspecting individuals at ATMs, restaurants or in crowded places.
There are also many ways that consumers can protect themselves from identity theft, fraud attempts, scams and high-tech identity and account theft. Some of the most effective ways to protect yourself include:
Read and reconcile bank statements and credit card statements as soon as they arrive.
- Remember: Your bank will not email or call you and ask for information that they already have, such as account numbers and social security numbers.
- If statements from financial institutions do not arrive on time, alert the institution that it may have been lost or stolen.
- When ordering new checks from your bank, pick them up from the bank instead of having them mailed to your home address. Do not have your Social Security number, telephone number or unnecessary information printed on your checks.
- Do not give out Social Security numbers over the telephone or the internet to anyone.
- Do not carry passports and Social Security cards in wallets or purses. Leave them at home unless they are needed for travel or a specific purpose.
- Cancel credit cards that you do not use. Do not carry extra credit cards in your wallet.
- Carry only the minimum amount of identifying information and credit cards necessary.
- Remove oneself from preapproved credit card offers. Register at optoutprescreen.com or call the toll-free number: 888-567-8688. Both methods should cover the consumer for five years.
- Destroy (shred) pre-approved credit card solicitations that come in the mail before putting in the trash.
- Be on the alert for internet-based fraud schemes such as phishing and pharming.
- Order credit reports once a year from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, Experian: 1-888-397-3742 and TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289). Consumers get one free credit report from each bureau per year. If anything suspicious appears on the credit report, close the suspicious account and place a Fraud Alert on your credit report.
- Never put personal financial information in emails.
- Be vigilant at ATM machines. Watch for “skimming” devices attached to ATMs and do not use if the machine looks suspicious. Watch for individuals close-by who could detect the information that you are entering into the machine.
- Place secure passwords on credit cards and bank cards. Do not use easily available information such as your mother’s maiden name, birth date, last four digits of your Social Security number or a series of consecutive numbers.
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If planning to be away from home for a few days, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or begin at-home delivery once more.
- To prevent an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins from obtaining any personal information, tear or shred completely your charge card receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that your are discarding, and credit offers that you receive in the mail.
- Be cautious and wary of responding to promotions. Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Do not respond to mailings or telephone calls that require you to call a “toll-free” number in order to collect a mysterious package or monies that you know nothing about.
- Put safeguards into place to help keep your computer and the information it stores safe by:
- Install virus protection software and update it regularly.
- Never write down passwords and leave them in an area where they can be accessed by others.
- A home computer should have a personal firewall and anti-malware (virus, spyware, Trojan) software installed and kept up-to-date.
- Disconnect your computer from the internet when not in use.
- Report anything suspicious to the proper authorities. Alert the company, financial institution, or government agency identified in the suspicious communication through a Web address or telephone number that you know is legitimate.
Some tips for protecting your child's identity:
Teach your child not to give out personal information, particularly online.
- Shred all papers to be thrown away that contain account numbers or Social Security numbers.
- Store your child's Social Security card in a safe place at home or in a safe-deposit box. Neither you nor your child should carry the card in a wallet.
- If you receive a pre-approved credit application or similarly unusual offer in the mail, investigate. Some banks may add a child's name to a mailing list if an account has been opened in his or her name, but this could be a red flag that your child's identity has been compromised.
- If you have reason to believe that there may be fraud, write (using certified return receipt) to the three credit-reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- and ask for a credit report in your child's name. A child should not have a credit report, because minors are unable to enter into contracts. You can find a sample letter and addresses at www.idtheftcenter.org.
- If you discover a credit report in your child's name, ask to have all accounts, applications and collection notices removed, and have a free security freeze put on the file. This will remain on the file until you request that it be removed or temporarily lifted.
- Ask if adults who work with your child and might have access to sensitive information -- such as coaches, Scout leaders or other activity leaders -- have had a background check. Also be careful when providing such documents as birth certificates to activity leaders, and ask to be notified if they will be shown to other people.
- If you think there may be a problem, contact the Social Security Administration for a copy of an earnings statement for your child. If it shows that your child has earned wages, it could indicate theft of the child's Social Security number. Details and forms are available at www.ssa.gov/mystatement.
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