How to Reduce Your Risk for Identity Theft
- Order an annual copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus to personally check for mistakes and fraud. Don't underestimate the importance of this step. The most common way that most consumers find out that they're victims of identity theft is when they try to make a major purchase and a credit report is processed.
- Place strong passwords on 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 Social Security Number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. Change passwords often.
- Secure personal information in your home and at work, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having service work done in your home.
- Don't carry your Social Security card with you; leave it in a secure place.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that records are kept in a secure location. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well.
- 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 with whom you're dealing.
- Be wary of promotional offers. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Before revealing any personally identifying information (for example, on an application), find out how it will be used and secured, and whether it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information and keeping it confidential. When opening new accounts, many businesses still ask for your mother's maiden name. Use a password instead.
- Give your Social Security Number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
- Guard your mail and trash from theft
- Place your outgoing mail in secure post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox
- If you plan to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777, or go on-line (http://www.usps.com-- click Receive Mail and Packages) to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you are home to receive it or can pick it up.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with businesses and (especially) creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- Tear or shred all charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Cut up expired charge cards that you're discarding.
- Keep your computer and your stored personal information safe.
- Update your virus protection software regularly.
- Do not download files, especially application and "zip" files, sent to you by anyone, unless it's a file you're specifically expecting. Do not click on hyperlinks from people you don't know.
- Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or T-1, which leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day.
- Use a secure browser - software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet - to guard the security of your online transactions.
- Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a strong password - a combination of letters (upper and lowers case), numbers and symbols. Change the password often.
- Don't use an automatic log-in feature which saves your user name and password so you don't have to enter them each time you log-in or enter a site. Always log off when you're finished.
- Before you dispose of a computer, delete personal information. Use a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive or physically shred/ destroy the hard drive. This makes the files unrecoverable.