So how can a responsible consumer minimize the risk of identity theft, as well as the potential for damage? When it involves your personal information, exercise caution and prudence. Use passwords for your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having service work done in your home.
Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or are sure you know who you’re dealing with. Identity thieves can be skilled liars, and may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), or even government agencies to get you to reveal identifying information. Before you divulge any personal information, confirm that you’re dealing with a legitimate representative of a legitimate organization. Double check by calling customer service using the number on your account statement or in the telephone book.
Guard your mail and trash from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office instead of an unsecured mailbox. Remove mail from your mailbox promptly. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, contact your local U.S. Postal Service to ask for a vacation hold. To thwart a thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications or offers, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, and expired charge cards.
Keep your Social Security card in a secure place and give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
Limit the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you carry to what you’ll actually need. Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
Your computer can be a goldmine of personal information to an identity thief. Here’s how you can safeguard your computer and the personal information it stores:
Internet “phishing” has emerged as one of the fastest growing frauds today! Phishing scams attempt to steal your Money and Identity. The most common form of phishing is by e-mail. Phishers pretend to be from your financial institution, an on-line business site or some organization that you have a relationship with. The intent is to “trick” consumers into divulging personal financial information. The e-mail, which appears to come from the business, may even have sophisticated graphics and images of the business logo. The e-mail may claim that your account information needs to be updated; some transaction has been made against your account: or, that your account will be “shut down” unless you “reconfirm” your information. Most phishers hope to get some “hits” by sending out massive numbers of phony e-mails.
Phishing messages usually ask the consumer to click on a web link in the e-mail. Typically, the link to the phony web-site looks like the real thing, but instead goes to a look-a like site where any personal information you give winds up in the hands of the phisher. The phisher may use it to run up credit card charges or steal your identity and create new accounts.
Phishing preys on the unsuspecting. Here is how you can help to protect your Money and Identity:
Even if you’ve been very careful about keeping your personal information to yourself, an identity thief can strike. If you suspect that your personal information has been used to commit fraud or theft, take the following three steps right away. Remember to follow up all calls in writing; send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when; and keep copies for your files.
Call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report.This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts on your credit report, and all three reports will be sent to you free of charge.
Once you receive your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries you didn’t initiate, accounts you didn’t open, and unexplained debts on your true accounts. You also should check that information such as your SSN, address(es), name or initial, and employers are correct. Inaccuracies in this information also may be due to typographical errors. Nevertheless, whether the inaccuracies are due to fraud or error, you should notify the credit bureau as soon as possible by telephone and in writing. You should continue to check your reports periodically to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
Credit accounts include all accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, and phone companies, utilities, ISPs, and other service providers. If you’re closing existing accounts and opening new ones, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. If there are fraudulent charges or debits, ask the company about the following forms for disputing those transactions:
If your checks have been stolen or misused, close the account and ask your bank to notify the appropriate check verification service.
Keep a copy of the report or at least the report number. You may need it to validate your claims to creditors.