Pretexting: Protect yourself
Even though the laws are on your side, it’s wise to take an active role in protecting your information.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with. Pretexters may pose as representatives of survey firms, banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother’s maiden name, financial account numbers and other identifying information. Legitimate organizations with which you do business have the information they need and will not ask you for it.
- Be informed. Ask your financial institutions for their policies about sharing your information. Ask them specifically about their policies to prevent pretexting.
- Pay attention to your statement cycles. Follow up with your financial institutions if your statements don’t arrive on time.
- Review your statements carefully and promptly. Report any discrepancies to your institution immediately.
- Alert family members to the dangers of pretexting. Explain that only you, or someone you authorize, should provide personal information to others.
- Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and other financial statements that you’re discarding, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.
- Add passwords to 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.
- Be mindful about where you leave personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates or are having work done in your home by others.
- Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
- Order a copy of your credit report from the three nationwide consumer reporting companies every year. An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports, at your request, once every 12 months. To order your free annual report from one or all of the nationwide consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print the order form from ftc.gov/credit. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. They provide free annual credit reports only through www.annualcreditreport.com, 1-877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Your credit report contains information on where you work and live, the credit accounts that have been opened in your name, how you pay your bills and whether you’ve been sued, arrested or have filed for bankruptcy. Checking your report annually can help you catch mistakes and fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances.