In this two part series we’ll discuss what to do to avoid becoming a victim and immediate steps to take if you become a victim.
I haven’t seen a lot of the commercials about it lately, but identity theft is still one of the fastest growing crimes, so don’t relax your guard or you could become a prime target. And your best defense is to be proactive.
Identity thieves use a variety of sources to get your personal information and once they have it, they can use it to rack up huge amounts of debt, purchase large items like cars, or even file bankruptcy or commit crimes using your name. Some common information gathering sources used by identity thieves include:
- stealing information from businesses and institutions
- stealing your mail
- rummaging through your trash – “dumpster diving”
- gaining access to your credit report
- burglarizing your home or stealing your wallet or purse
- obtaining information from you by phone or the internet
While you can’t control all access to your information, there are some things you can do to make it more difficult for identity thieves to obtain and use your information. Here are my top seven strategies to help lesson your chances of becoming a victim:
1. Review your credit reports on a regular basis. Look for errors such as misspelled names, wrong Social Security numbers (SSN), wrong addresses or employers, or new accounts or credit applications you did not authorize. Note: It may be to your benefit to stagger your free credit reports throughout the year so you can receive one every four months.
2. Treat your mail and trash with care. Regularly go through your mail, separate out documents that include sensitive information and shred them. Sample documents to shred include: pay stubs, charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards, and credit offers you receive in the mail.
3. Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information such as 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.
4. Read your credit card and bank statements as soon as they arrive and follow up on errors or suspicious transactions immediately.
5. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with. Never respond to emails that look like they have been sent by the IRS, the Social Security Administration, other government agencies or banks that are requesting personal information, they will never ask for sensitive information by email.
6. Be cautious when responding to promotions and sweepstakes. When registering at sites or for products, never give out your true birth date. You can give the year, but substitute another month and date. These are often data gathering sites where your information will be sold and they may even be set up by identity thieves.
7. Practice computer safety. Before giving out sensitive information over the internet always look for signs that it is a secure site such as https, shttp, or a locked lock. Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed internet connection like cable or DSL that leaves your computer connected to the internet 24/7 or disconnect your computer when you are not using the internet. ps!