Avoid Identity Theft
Simple Steps to Secure Your Personal Information
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. It refers to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains another person’s personal data to perpetrate fraud or deception.
Your personal data (most often your Social Security number, bank accounts, date of birth, credit card numbers) is most often stolen for use in obtaining fraudulent loans, to buy merchandise, and otherwise use your good name to amass debt and commit crimes.
Often identity thieves request a change of address, so you never even see the bills. Within a very short period of time they write checks, run up credit card balances, take out loans… then disappear, leaving you with the bills and damage to your assets, credit rating, and reputation. Most people are unaware that the theft of their identity has even occurred until they apply for a loan or receive a collection call.
But fortunately, there are precautions you can take to avoid becoming a victim.
Prevent Identity Theft
Thieves use various means to obtain your personal information. Adhering to the following precautions makes it more difficult for them to obtain your information.
Prevent Shoulder Surfing—Public places are a prime opportunity for thieves to engage in “shoulder surfing.” This crime ranges from looking over your shoulder while you’re writing a check at the market, eavesdropping on conversations, to watching you input your password at the ATM or your calling card number at a phone booth.
Watching you write a check can provide criminals with your address, phone number, and your financial institution information. Listening in on your conversation could reveal your credit card number if you are placing orders or making reservations by telephone. You should always shield your information in public places to ensure that no one can observe your passwords. Being aware of your surroundings and the people within close proximity are the first steps in protecting yourself.
Destroy and Dispose of Sensitive Information—Identity thieves commonly sift through trash receptacles and dumpsters of residences and businesses alike. For this reason, your sensitive information should always be shredded before it is discarded. All of those “pre-approved” credit card solicitations you receive in the mail should at minimum be completely torn up prior to discarding; however, thorough shredding of the materials is recommended. Receipts from an ATM or credit card purchases should always be taken with you and securely disposed of later. Never leave them behind for others to take!
Review Credit Reports Often—On an annual basis (as a minimum), review your credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Be sure all of the information reported belongs to you and is accurate. If you discover errors, contact the agencies immediately.
Monitor Your Mail Box—Personal information is also stolen from public and personal mailboxes. Retrieve your mail from your mailbox as early as possible after delivery. Review all of your mail promptly to ensure the information is correct and unauthorized activity has not occurred. Be aware whether or not you’ve received all of your regular monthly bills, such as utilities, car payments, medical bills, etc. If you have recently reordered checks, in addition to making sure they arrive in a timely manner, open and scan them upon receipt to make sure none are missing. In the event you do not receive a bill, statement, or other sensitive mail, call the appropriate company immediately to ascertain why you haven't and obtain the status of your account.
Outgoing mail is more secure when mailed from a U.S. post office mailbox, as opposed to placing it in your home mailbox pending pick up by the postal service. Additionally, when you’re out of town have your mail held by the post office, or picked up daily by a trusted individual.
Internet and Telephone Precautions—Be sure you know who you are transacting business with prior to providing any personal information. Among others, your bank, Internet provider, or credit card issuer will never solicit your response to e-mails or telephone calls requesting personal information, so don’t give it out!
Lost or Stolen Information—In the event your wallet or purse is stolen or lost, it is critical that you report it immediately to your bank, credit card issuers, and other businesses you have accounts with. Your bank should be advised of all checking accounts, credit or debit cards, and ATM cards that are missing or compromised. Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) should be memorized and never carried in your wallet. Additionally, carrying your social security card, birth certificate, or passport is not recommended unless required for a specific purpose.