Identity Theft Prevention Tips
Everyday, you engage in transactions that require the sharing of your personal information. For example, you share your personal information when you make purchases, pay bills, pay taxes, and log onto your favorite websites. To complete these transactions, you often provide information such as your name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, or sometimes even bank account or credit card numbers. As a result, elements of your personal information exist in every business or organization with whom you have every conducted a transaction.
Often, large amounts of unnecessary information is requested by a company with whom you conduct a transaction. The goal of this prevention plan is to help you limit what personal information is being distributed and to keep yourself apprised of all activity that occurs when your personal information is being used.
The following are very simple safeguards you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.
Order a copy of your credit report regularly - Your credit report contains important information about you and your credit history. It also contains information on most credit applications made in your name. By checking your own credit report regularly, you can often catch unauthorized activity. Such activity may indicate that your identity has been compromised. Currently, there are three credit reporting agencies that publish credit reports. These are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. By law, you are entitled to one free credit report from each agency every year. It is recommended to order one (1) report every four (4) months to check for suspicious activity.
Place passwords on all of your important accounts - Passwords help provide extra protection to important information such as credit card and bank accounts, phone and other utility accounts. Avoid using obvious passwords such as your telephone number, birthdays, or your mother’s maiden name. Instead use passwords and PINs that will be difficult for someone else to figure out. Don’t use the same password on different accounts, such as bank and e-mail accounts. Further, it is important for you to write down your passwords and store them in a safe place. However, it is not wise to leave your passwords in easily accessible places like your desk drawer or your computer.
Secure your personal information - If possible, secure all personal information at home in a lockable filing cabinet or safe. If you share accommodation or have maintenance or cleaning services in or around your home regularly, having a secure place for such documents is particularly important. Collect new check books or credit cards in person from the bank. Don’t leave documents such as registration papers, driver’s licenses, utility bills or traffic tickets in your vehicle’s glove box. Furthermore, avoid leaving your personal documents in the hands of others, family, friends or otherwise. Once your information is out of your direct control, you cannot be sure how they are being used.
Do not carry personal information unless you have to - Unless you really need to, do not carry important documents around with you outside your home. For example, never carry your PIN in your wallet with your ATM card. When you leave your home each day, carry with you only the ATM card(s) and credit card(s) you need. The same can be said for your passport and your birth certificate. When you do need to use your ATM card or other articles which contain your personal information, be wary of people who are acting suspiciously. Further, examine ATM or automated machines you use carefully. If it looks as if the machine has been tampered with, do not use it.
Destroy information before you dispose of it - “Dumpster diving” is perhaps one of the most commonly used techniques employed by thieves. Therefore, before placing old bills, records or expired cards in the trash, ensure that any identifying information is destroyed. If you get a pre-approved credit card and you do not want to activate that card, make sure you destroy any information that links the card to you before disposing of it. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, and we recommend you destroy old records, files, bills and expired credit cards in the same fashion: by tearing or cutting up the old information before throwing them in the trash.
Avoid giving personal information out over the phone, by mail or on the internet - Make sure you know who you are dealing with before you give your personal information. Only provide the minimum information necessary to those with whom you have initiated contact or whom you have checked independently. Always ask why your information is needed and how it is going to be used. Do not be afraid to say “NO” or seek further advice before disclosing any information. Unsolicited offers that seem too good to be true or that require you to give out a bank account or other personal information are likely to be scams.
Secure your mail - Make sure you have a secure, lockable mailbox. Further, only send your mail via secure, official post boxes. Make sure your mailbox is large enough to accept and hold mail in the quantity and size you normally get. If you are unable to lock your mailbox, we encourage you to quickly remove mail from your mailbox after it is delivered, rather than wait several days for mail to pile up before retrieving it. If you are going away for extended periods of time, have your mail held at the post office. Should you feel that the volume of mail drops of substantially, check with the post office to see if anyone has filed a change of address form in your name.
Check your billing and account records carefully - By carefully checking all transactions on your banking and credit card accounts you may be able to detect potential identity theft early. Follow up if your bills or accounts don’t arrive on time. Missing records or accounts could indicate that your accounts have been taken by a thief who has changed your billing address.
Limit the amount of credit you have in accounts - For certain transactions, such as those made by telephone or on the internet, it is best to use a separate account with a low credit limit, so that if the account is misused, your immediate and potential losses will be minimized.
Write checks and fill out forms carefully - Make sure that you fill out checks and forms carefully so that they cannot be altered easily. Always mark your checks “not negotiable” and make sure the payee is correctly identified. In checks and other forms put a line through unused spaces.
List all your account details - Keep a list of all your accounts and credit cards in a safe place. Also make a list of contact numbers for the organizations that manage your accounts and credit cards in case those accounts are compromised. Therefore, if for example, your wallet or your purse is stolen, you will have the necessary information readily available to act quickly.
Remove your name from mailing lists - It is particularly important to take this action if you are unexpectedly offered a pre-approved credit card. Therefore, if you receive mail addressed to you from companies you have not had any dealings with, or receive pre-approved credit cards that you did not apply for, do not simply throw the mail in the trash and forget about them. Contact the company or credit provider making the offer and ask that your name be removed from any further mailing lists.