How You Can Safeguard Your Identity
The best strategy for dealing with identity theft is PREVENTION. Here are some very important prevention tips.
- Place strong passwords on your credit card accounts, bank accounts and phone accounts.
- Install strong computer protection software on your computer. You want to block not just the viruses that mess up your files, but also those that can hijack information that is stored on your machine and send it elsewhere.
Nearly 1/3 of all known identity crimes involve a lost or stolen wallet, checkbook, or credit card. Don't carry PIN codes or passcodes for your cards with you. Leave your Social Security card at home except when you absolutely need to use it.
Donít leave your checkbook, credit cards, or financial papers lying around where they could end up in the wrong hands. Many ID theft victims are familiar with the person who ends up stealing their personal information.
Shred personal papers that you are throwing away, including ATM receipts, credit receipts, credit statements, credit cards, bank statements, completed insurance forms, physiciansí statements, expired charge cards, cancelled checks, credit card "convenience checks" and new credit offers you get in the mail.
Never give your personal information (such as social security number, credit card number, bank account number) over the phone, in the mail, or on the Internet unless youíre the one initiating the contact and itís with a company you know. Stick with this important advice, even if they say youíve won a grant or a prize, or they tell you theyíre calling from your bank or a government agency.
- Watch for signs of identity theft, like:
- failing to receive your regular bills or other mail. Follow up with creditors if your bills donít arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- receiving credit cards that you didnít apply for.
- being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.
- getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didnít buy. Always follow up with the business to find out if this is an honest error or signs of a problem.
- Roadside mailboxes are favorite targets of ID thieves looking for checks to steal. Donít let incoming or outgoing mail sit in your mailbox all day. It's safer to send your outgoing correspondence from the post office or official US mailbox, rather than leaving it in your mailbox with the flag up.
- Opt out of offers for new credit cards, mortgages, or other loans. Call the credit bureaus' dedicated line at 1-888-567-8688 from your home telephone or register online at www.optoutprescreen.com. If you call, the automated voice-response system is going to ask for your name, telephone number, and Social Security number; itís ok in this case to provide the information because the credit bureaus already have it as part of your credit history. You can opt out of credit offers for five years or more.
- Review a copy of your credit report at least once each year. You can get one free credit history every year from each of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). By rotating your requests, you can receive a report every four months. Only use the www.annualcreditreport.com website or call 1-877-322-8228. All the other sites you hear about in ads may charge you for your report, or sell you something you don't really need or want.
- Notify the credit bureau in writing of any questionable entries and follow through until they are explained or removed. Donít respond to unsolicited offers to get you copies of your credit report. If itís a scam, youíll be giving someone everything needed to steal your identity.
Content Last Modified on 4/16/2010 10:58:29 AM