Although you cannot prevent Identity Theft and Fraud 100%, you can definitely take measures to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of this crime. Stay cautious and prudent when it comes to your personal information. Here are just a few things you can do to reduce the risk:
- From what I can remember, when I first got here, I was encouraged to carry at all times my passport, birth certificate, Social Security Card, etc. Forget it! Think about it-if you lose your wallet or a purse, you lose a lot of sensitive information which could end up in the hands of criminals.
- When eating out or shopping, do not discard your receipts. Take them with you and, if you don’t need them, destroy them at home.
- At the restaurant pay close attention on how your credit card is handled by a waiter.
- Avoid putting your phone number, driver’s license and a SSN on your checks.
- If your state uses your SSN in place of a Driver’s license number, ask DMV for a unique number. Actually it is a violation of Federal law to use your SSN on your Driver’s license. Same goes for schools and colleges-do not put your SSN as your student ID.
- Ask your doctor if and how they safeguard your personal information. All medical providers are required by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to provide you with disclosures on how they protect your personal and medical information.
- Ask your bank and credit card issuers to provide you with their privacy policies.
- Crosscut-shred all personal and financial documents including pre-approved offers, receipts, statements before placing them in the trash bin! Or burn them if you have a fireplace. Make sure to destroy your expired credit cards as well. These days, you can purchase a heavy duty crosscut shredder for under $100.00. Trust me, it is worth it.
- When purchasing on line, make sure you are on a secured encrypted website (https) and/or look for a padlock image in the browser. If you are not sure about the company you are dealing with, do some research. Do not use debit cards when making online purchases. Use a credit card, because it offers a better protection if fraud happens.
- Keep your credit cards, statements, check books in one safe place. Do not leave them scattered around at home. Not only it is safer, but it is more organized.
- Any credit cards you do not use should be kept in a safe place. Only carry the one you plan on using.
- Make sure to check your monthly credit card and bank statements for anything out of ordinary.
- When mailing your bill payments, drop them off at the post office instead of using your own mail box. You can set up a P.O. Box at the local post office branch for incoming mail. Consider using your bank’s Online Bill Pay feature. As strange as it sounds, it is safer than regular mail.
- Check your credit report at least once a year. By law, you are allowed to get a free credit report from each Credit Bureau every 12 months. There is only one website that offers truly free credit reports: www.AnnualCreditReport.com. All others are commercial websites and offer free reports once you sign up for their monitoring services. The fees are about $12.00 a month. Do not do use those site. Only use www.annualcreditreport.com, which is sponsored by Transunion, Equifax and Experian themselves.
You can request your report online, phone or mail:
•Online: Just go to www.annualcreditreport.com and you will get them instantly.
•Phone: Call 1-877-322-8228. You will go though several verification steps.•Mail: Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Note: Your reports will be mailed within 15 days and, of course, allow about 2 weeks for delivery.
- There are several companies that specialize in monitoring and safeguarding your identity. It is almost like having an alarm company for your home. LifeLock charges just $10.00 a month. Identity Guard Total Protection charges about $9.99-$17.99 a month with one month FREE trial, but its service is a little more comprehensive. Check them out.
- Make a list or photocopy of all your credit and debit cards, bank accounts, and investments, insurance with account numbers, expiration dates and telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments and keep them in a secure place such, perhaps in a safe. You can easily contact all of them in case any fraud or a lost or stolen information.
- If you applied for a new card or expecting the reissued one, make sure to check your mail frequently. Contact your bank or a credit card issuer if you do not receive the card within 15 days.
- Do not use your SSN as your PIN/password. Same goes for your birth date, street number, mother’s maiden name, pet’s name and anything that would be easy to guess. Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. The longer the string, the better. Don’t write you PINs or passwords anywhere-memorize them.
- When using an ATM machine, shield a pin pad when entering your PIN (personal identification number). Sometimes thieves use pinhole cameras to capture your passwords.
- Install a firewall on your home computer and/or your lap top to prevent hackers from breaking into your computer and get your information. Install and regularly update an anti-virus software. For wireless internet connections, use secured networks.
- Password protect your computer and any and all folders containing your personal and financial information.
- Never, never, never respond to “phishing” email or instant messages. They appear to be from legitimate companies and banking institutions, but they are the impostors trying to get your information.
- Limit the amount of pre-approved offers you receive by removing yourself from the mailing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Call 888-5OPTOUT or go online to www.optoutprescreen.com.
Better be safe than sorry!