Identity Theft Prevention
Identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information and pretends to be you to obtain credit cards, loans, and even jobs. Identity thieves have a "buy now, pay never" shopping spree at your expense.
Identity thieves only need to know your Social Security number, name, and address to wreck your good credit. Using easily accessible public records, they can learn your place of employment, date of birth, and mother's maiden name. They can open a credit card account and immediately charge up to the limit with no intention of paying.
Some get this information the old fashioned way: They steal your purse or wallet. Others steal official looking mail from your mailbox. Some use change-of-address cards from the Post Office to have your mail forwarded to another address typically a vacant building. They may steal garbage bags or "dumpster dive" for trash with revealing information. Fellow employees may access information from your personnel file. Bank employees have collected data from their computer databases. Others collect data from public records.
An astonishing supply of data is quickly available on the Internet from fee-based electronic reference services such as Informus, Infotel, Knowx, and LEXIS-NEXIS as well as less expensive sources.
Getting a credit card issued is quite a simple process, especially department store cards. You are typically only required to show two forms of ID: a picture ID such as a driver's license, and a second identification, like your social security card.
Here are steps to take to protect yourself from identity theft.
Preventing identity theft with credit cards
Credit cards can be obtained through banks and credit unions as well as chain stores.
Many offers for "pre-approved" credit cards come in the mail.
Getting a credit card issued by department stores is simple. Only two forms of ID are required: a driver's license with a picture ID and a second identification, like another credit card or your Social Security card.
What steps should you take to protect your identity with credit cards?
Credit Fraud--Unauthorized Charges
- Ask stores at which you are applying for credit how they safeguard credit applications. Ensure that they are treated as secure documents.
- Ask businesses how they store and dispose of credit card transaction skips. Ensure that proper safeguards are in place to treat these documents securely.
- Never giver credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call. Even if you initiate the call, ensure that called party is not using a cellular or other mobile phone.
- Sign credit cards in permanent ink as soon as you obtain them.
- Carry only the credit cards needed for the current trip. Most people carry all their credit cards with them at all times.
- Tear up or shred all "pre-approved" credit card offers before throwing them away. Trash bags are not secure; nor are dumps. Thieves can retrieve these documents and open credit accounts with new addresses.
- Keep a list or photocopy of all credit accounts, along with expiration dates and phone numbers to call in case of theft. Keep this list in a secure spot at home.
- When you purchase items with credit, always take your credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a waste basket.
- Do not have boxes of new checks delivered to your home. Arrange to pick them up at the bank or credit union.
- Carefully examine each monthly credit card statement to ensure that every charge accurately matches credit card receipts.
- Do not write credit card numbers on checks.
- Do not sign a blank charge slip. Draw a line through all areas for recording charges above the total.
- If you have applied for a new credit card and it does not arrive, contact the issuer.
- Avoid giving credit card numbers over the phone if you are in a public place. Even at work, others may overhear and use the information.
- Receive your credit card statements at a Post Office Box rather than at home (unless you have a locking mailbox).
Credit fraud involves the theft of credit card or account numbers to make unauthorized charges to your account. Though consumers are protected financially from this abuse, other creditors may take note of all this activity and decide to raise interest rates or refuse to grant a loan. Ordering a credit report will help catch new activity on accounts that you haven't been using, or may have closed. If you would like to get a free copy of your credit report right now, Free Instant Credit Reports has a very good offer.
Identity theft: Protect your Social Security Number
Your Social Security number is the main key to your credit safety.
Anyone with your Social Security number (SSN) can easily create a credit nightmare that will take years to resolve.
What steps should you take to protect your Social Security number?
- Never carry documents containing your Social Security number. This includes your Social Security card as well as many insurance cards.
- Never give your Social Security number to anyone by telephone, even if you make the call.
- Avoid having your Social Security number used for IDs at work. Request a different number if possible.
- Avoid using your Social Security number as your drivers license number. Request that your Department of Motor Vehicles use an alternative number; most states will provide one.
- Do not pre-print or write your Social Security number on your checks.
- Ensure that those requesting your Social Security number are doing so for legitimate reasons, not merely bureaucratic reasons.
- Request a copy of your Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement at least every three years to make certain the information in the file is correct. Contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213 to learn how to order this free report.
Prevent Identity Theft in Financial Transactions
Your financial institution is a doorway to a major portion of your financial life.
Your bank account and checking account need to be secure. The time when local bank tellers knew their customers is long gone. What steps can you take to secure financial information through your bank?
- Ask your bank or credit union to add addition security protection to your account. Most will allow the use of a special code or password to carry out financial transactions, especially withdrawals.
- Shield your hand when entering your ATM password. Be aware of what is around you when approaching an ATM. Someone may be looking over your shoulder with binoculars or a telephoto lens on a video camera.
- Memorize your ATM password so it is not written down.
- Do not write credit card numbers on your checks.
- Do not pre-print or write your drivers license number on your checks.
- Do not place bill payments in your mailbox for pickup by postal carriers. Stolen checks can be altered and cashed by an impostor. Mail bills and other personal items at the post office.
Prevent Identity Theft in Mail and at the Post Office
- Do not sign up for unfamiliar contests or sweepstakes. Information you provide could be sold and reproduced hundreds of times.
- Install a lockable mailbox at your home so thieves cannot easily take your mail.
- Remove your name from commercial marketing databases by writing to Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service (P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735) and Telephone Preference Service (P.O. Box 9015, Farmingdale, NY 11735).
- If your mail suddenly stops, check with the Post Office. Someone may have filed a change of address form.
- Stop credit bureaus from selling your name (header information). This will greatly reduce the number of pre-qualified credit card offers you receive in the mail. Call the toll-free telephone number used by all three credit bureaus and take advantage of their "opt-out" service. One number, (888) 5OPTOUT, or (888) 567-8688, reaches all three bureaus.
- Write to National Demographics and Lifestyles and ask to be deleted from its mailing list: National Demographics & Lifestyles, List Order Department, 1621 18th Street, Suite 300, Denver, CO 80202. (800) 525-3533.
Credit Reports and other Documents
- Shred all documents containing personal information before disposing of them. This includes utility bills, doctor bills, bank statements, investment reports, and credit card receipts.
- Never post personal information on the Internet.
- Review your credit report annually. You can get continuous free access to your credit reports at Free Instant Credit Reports. They also provide a service to help clean up your credit report.
- Add a fraud alert to your credit files that alerts the three major credit bureaus to inform credit givers to call you for verification of any credit applications. Your letters should contain your name, address, Social Security number, and spouse's name. Fraud alerts normally remain active for seven years.
Identity Theft Summary
Always be wary of giving out any of the following information that can be used to establish your identity:
- Social Security number
- Current and previous address
- Financial institution or investment account numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Date of birth
- Driver's license number
- Mother's maiden name (frequently used to retrieve forgotten passwords)
- Passwords, such as ATM pin numbers
- Phone numbers, both daytime and home
If you have not already done so, check your credit rating today. Click the image below.
You may also want to visit some of these sites that describe identity theft.
Identity theft victim? Here's how to cope.
Identity theft: How it's done, what you need to know.
Your credit report: What's in it and what how to get it.
Identity Theft Prevention and Victim Help Home Page