Identity theft involves someone else using your personal information to create fraudulent accounts, charge items to another person’s existing accounts, or even get a job. You can minimize the risks by managing your personal information wisely and cautiously. Here are some ways to protect yourself from identity theft:
Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared. Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. Guard your mail against theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service toll-free at 1-800-275-8777, or visit www.usps.gov to request a vacation hold.
When possible, put 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 telephone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. It’s a good idea to keep a list of your credit card issuers and their telephone numbers. Don’t give out personal information on the telephone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or you know whom you’re dealing with. Protect personal information in your home.
For example, tear or shred documents like charge receipts, copies of credit offers and applications, insurance forms, physician’s statements, discarded bank checks and statements, and expired credit cards before you throw them away. Be cautious about leaving personal information in plain view, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done.
Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location. Never carry your Social Security card; leave it in a secure place at home. Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Order your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year to make sure it is accurate and includes only those activities you’ve authorized. Carry only the identification that you actually need.
Don’t Be Lost
A lost or stolen wallet or purse is a gold mine of information for identity thieves. If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen:
- File a report with the police immediately and keep a copy.
- Cancel your credit cards. Call the issuer(s) immediately. Many companies have 24-hour toll-free numbers to deal with such emergencies. The number is on your monthly statement.
- Get new cards with new account numbers.
- Call the fraud departments of the major credit reporting agencies, and ask each agency to put a “fraud alert” on your account:
- Report the loss to the fraud department of the bank where you have your checking and savings accounts. Ask about the next steps regarding your accounts, including your ATM or debit card.
- Review your credit reports regularly and have them corrected when necessary.
- Report a missing driver’s license to your state department of motor vehicles.
- Change your home and car locks, if your keys were taken.
About Lost or Stolen Credit Cards
If your card is lost or stolen, federal law protects you from owing more than $50 per card-but only if you report that the card was lost or stolen within two days of discovering the loss or theft. If you suspect any fraudulent purchases, you may be asked to sign a statement under oath that you did not make the purchase(s) in question., it’s important to ask for details before agreeing to any debt-relief services.