Minimize Exposure to Identity Theft

Although there is a great deal you can do to protect your identity and financial information, you can become a victim through no fault of your own. Given the rampant criminal activity in this area, it is impossible to completely eliminate the threat of identity theft. However, you can reduce your exposure by keeping your personal information…well, personal. Here’s how.

Watch Your Trash

Shred, burn or otherwise destroy any identifying information before you throw it out. Shredders are great, but you can also tear things up into small pieces. (However, with enough pieces of the puzzle a good thief can re-create or complete enough of your financial profile to pass even the most rigorous security checks.) In short, beware of what you throw away, no matter where you are. This includes:

  • Bills revealing your name and/or account numbers
  • Receipts (of any kind) with your name and/or full/partial account numbers, credit card solicitations or offers with your name on every fifth line to personalize the request
  • Credit cards (expired or cancelled accounts)
  • Catalog/magazine labels (check inside the catalog/magazine for preprinted order forms or labels)
  • Envelopes with your name and address on them (especially junk mail)

Watch What You Say

When you are prompted to reveal identifying information such as your Social Security number, your mother’s maiden name or birth date, etc., know with whom you are speaking before you respond. If you do not feel comfortable, keep asking questions until you are satisfied it is safe to divulge personal information. As a rule, whoever solicits you should identify him/her self at the beginning of a call. If you have to make repeated requests for this information terminate the call becasue you are not dealing with a professional.

REMEMBER: Your bank, insurance provider or credit card issuer will not call you and ask for personal information they already have in their records. If the call concerns a credit card, insurance offer, etc., do not be pressured into revealing identity information over the phone in order to take advantage of a “special deal” or “prize.” If a “limited time” offer is legitimate the company will mail you an application describing the offer in detail. It is not worth losing your precious identity over a fleeting promotional gimmick. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Watch What You Carry on Your Person

Do not routinely carry multiple credit cards; take just the card/s you need and secure any others. The same is true of your Social Security card; you do not need it on a daily basis, so leave it at home. Besides, you probably have the number committed to memory and the actual card is rarely required.

Although keeping your driver’s license and credit cards in your wallet is convenient, they’re the first things an identity thief will attempt to steal. If you’re a man, put those items someplace other than your back pocket. If you’re a woman, put them in a separate section of your purse. If your wallet is stolen, all you’ve lost is cash.

Watch Your Account Balances

Pay close attention to bank, credit card, telecommunication and utility statements to identify problems based on your own memory of usage. When you reconcile your checkbook you will be able to spot suspicious items on your statement, but if you make use of your bank’s on-line services, randomly check the activity to verify your balance is where you think it should be. If you spend a few minutes reviewing all your statement as they arrive each month you can immediately report transactions you do not recognize.

Take Advantage of Free Credit Reports

Each of the three reporting bureaus listed below allows you one free annual credit report. Some states even allow two free reports per year, (a total of 6) or one every two months. Space them out so that every two or four months you can use one of the free report to spot and report any inconsistencies right away. If a thief has used your identity to set up a line of credit, and is having the statement sent to another address, viewing your credit report may be the quickest way to discover their nefarious deeds.

As soon as possible after a disaster, check your credit report and all bank/credit/debit card accounts. If something appears out-of-line, follow up immediately. Also, if your credit card company calls you to verify recent charges they consider inconsistent with your spending pattern, DO speak with them immediately. This will ensure uninterrupted use of your funds/card. (Returning such a call will be a minor inconvenience compared to the hassle of picking up the pieces AFTER someone has gone on a spending spree at your expense. It shows they are looking out for you, so work with them in detecting fraud.)

Note: Overdrafts are expensive and can negatively impact your credit score. If you have opted to have your bank make automatic payments (i.e. mortgage or auto loan) be sure to suspend the service if emergency circumstances prevent your paycheck from being deposited to your account.

Next>> Month 11: If You Are a Victim