While it is impossible to totally eliminate the threat of identity theft, there are a number of steps you can take to make it harder for a thief to steal your personal information. Many experts agree that you can start by following these BASIC STEPS:
* Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.
* Protect your PIN. Never write a PIN number on a credit/debit card or keep it in the same area where you keep your cards.
* Keep a list of account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers filed away in a secure locaton. This will make it easier for you to alert your creditors if your wallet/purse is ever stolen.
* Watch out for “shoulder surfers” when using a public input device.
* Collect your mail daily. If you are out of town for more than a few days, ask the post office to put a hold on your mail until you return home.
* Immediately sign and activate new credit cards. Destroy the old ones.
* Pay attention to your billing cycles. If you aren’t getting a monthly statement, verify your mailing schedule.
* Keep your receipts. Ask for carbons and incorrect charge slips as well.
* Tear up or shred unwanted receipts, credit card offers, account statements, expired cards, etc. because thieves can get your personal information from your trash.
* Store personal information in a safe. Don’t leave it laying around. It needs to be locked up. Don’t store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. Don’t use an automatic login feature that stores you user name and password. Make sure to enable system locks and pass codes.
* When you order new checks, pick them up at the bank.
* Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out and don’t share health plan information with anyone except your current providers.
* Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information.
* Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
* Make sure you know who is getting your personal information. Don’t share personal information over the phone or over the internet unless you initiated the contact or know who you are dealing with.
* Before you dispose of a computer or mobile device, permanently delete all personal information it stores. Check with the manufacturer or service provider to make sure you are permanently deleting the information.
* Avoid phishing emails. Don’t open files, click on links or download programs sent by strangers or look suspect.
* Be careful when using a public wireless network (Wi-Fi).
* Check your credit report once a year.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) allows consumers to get one FREE comprehensive disclosure of all of the information in their credit file from each of the three national credit reporting companies once every 12 months. Asking for and reviewing your personal credit information on an annual basis is a good way to verify its accuracy and to stop fraud and identity theft. You can request your free statutory annual credit file disclosure through a central source by:
1. Visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com or
2. By calling 877-322-8228 or by completing
3. An Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Your free annual credit report does NOT include your credit score. If you want your score, you will have to pay a reasonable fee for this information.
Review all the information found on the Federal Trade Commission website, under Consumer Information. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that if you are a victim of identity theft, you should take the following immediate steps to limit the damage already caused and to help prevent further damage to your personal credit.
1. Place an initial Fraud Alert. Contact the fraud department of ONE of the three major credit bureaus and report the theft. This alert will be shared with the other two national credit reporting companies and will stay on your report for at least 90 days. Ask that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file and that no new credit be granted without your advance approval.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 www.equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance
Experian: 1-888-397-3742 www.experian.com/fraud
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289 www.transunion.com/fraud
2. Order a FREE credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. You will want to review each report to look for unauthorized charges or accounts.
If you find any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the security department of the appropriate creditor or financial institution. Close these accounts and then follow up in writing with supporting documents asking for verification that the disputed account(s) has been identified, dealt with and the fraudulent debts discharged.
3. Create an Identity Theft Affidavit, using the FTC’s online form for reporting fraud. You may also call the FTC’s ID Theft Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-877-438-4338. Once you have completed your Identity Theft Affidavit, be sure and print a copy for you records. Take a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit with you when you file a report with the local police or the police where the identity theft took place. Get the police report number or a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime later.
Organization and follow-up are important. Be sure and keep a record of all your phone conversations, letters sent and received, as well as documents/reports you gather or generate.
THE INITIAL STEPS, AS OUTLINED ABOVE, ARE NOT THE ONLY STEPS YOU CAN
OR SHOULD TAKE. CONSULT WITH YOUR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT, FINANCIAL
INSTITUTION(S) AND THE FTC FOR HELP IN DECIDING HOW BEST TO PROCEED.