How You Can Prevent Identity Theft
To prevent identity theft is becoming an increasing priority in the
United States as the cost and frequency of identity theft crimes continue to
grow. With personal, identifying data being stolen in the past few years from
information clearinghouses, credit card issuers, and even the Department of
Defense, more and more of us want to know:
What can I do to prevent identity
While there is currently no foolproof method to eliminate the possibility of
identity theft, there are steps you can take to help prevent identity theft
and/or ease the pain it can inflict on your finances and your life.
Steps You Can Take to Prevent Identity Theft
Protect documents that contain information unique to you,
from insurance policies and mortgage loan paperwork to wills, retirement
account statements and much more. Store your important documents securely,
either at your bank or at home. Keep an eye on any document that contains
personal information, though, especially credit card receipts; a discarded
credit card receipt offers thieves an easy way to break into your life.
Shred papers that contain sensitive information.
In addition to outdated financial documents, be sure to destroy credit card
offers and other mailings that thieves can use to open accounts in your name.
Never give out personal information during a phone call that you didn't initiate.
If a company claims that it needs your personal information, ask for a
call-back phone number, and be sure to verify both the number and the
legitimacy of the company before calling back.
Use a locked mailbox.
Thieves can steal credit-card offers from your mailbox to create accounts in
your name. They can also use unguarded mailboxes to pick up purchases made in
Never give out your Social Security number over the phone,
and don't put that number or your phone number on your checks. If your state or
medical insurance carrier uses your Social Security number as your identifying
number, ask them to issue you a different identifying number.
Carry only the credit or debit card(s) you need
and memorize your Social Security number rather than carrying your card with
Don't use family names or birthdays as passwords or PINs.
Always guard the keypad when entering your PIN in a public ATM to prevent
identity theft by a “shoulder surfer.”
Monitor your credit card and bank statements.
If you find any activity that you can't explain, investigate it immediately.
Outside Sources That Can Help You Prevent Identity
Monitor your credit reports
from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion continuously to look for changes (e.g.,
new inquiries, change-of-address requests or newly opened accounts). If you see
any discrepancies or activities that you can't explain, begin an immediate
inquiry into the matter.
Hire a reliable firm to search public databases for additional signs of
identity theft anytime you've been victimized. These firms will comb the public
records for information that connects your name to activities and lists you may
not be aware of, such as:
Criminal activity that shows up in your county's records and certain federal
Department of Motor Vehicle records in your state;
Unknown addresses; and
banking transactions that have been tagged as fraudulent.
Install software programs that can protect your personal computers
from spyware, hackers, viruses and other Internet threats. Then, stay ahead of
the latest security threats by updating your software regularly.
Make sure you have identity theft insurance.
While it won't prevent identity theft, it can protect you against the high
costs of restoring your identity, including the loss of wages you may incur
while trying to reclaim your identity, as well as the cost of legal fees and
other restoration steps.
It comes down to this: Paying close attention to your personal and financial
records and other identifying information is your best weapon in your quest to