Protect Your Identity
Tips for Identity Theft Prevention:
1. Protect your Social Security number
Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. If your health plan (other than Medicare) or another card uses your Social Security number, ask the company for a different number.
2. Don’t fall for phishing scams
Scam artists “phish” for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They do this over the phone, in e-mails and in the regular mail. Do not respond to any request to verify your account number or password. Legitimate companies do not request this kind of information in this way. Bottom line: Never give out your personal information – unless you made the contact.
3. Polish your password practices
Identity thieves love passwords because they open doors to our personal information. Get tough and organized now. Use different passwords for all your accounts. Make those passwords strong with at least eight characters, including a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols ($+r0^gh@h@). Hide them safely, and keep them handy. Good password practices are work, but fixing an identity theft problem is hard labor!
4. Be mysterious on social networks
Don’t over share on social networks (your home or email address; children’s names; birth date and so on) is what tech-savvy thieves use for scams, phishing, and account theft.
5. Shield your computer and smartphone
Protect your personal information on your computers and smartphones. Use strong passwords. Use firewall, virus and spyware protection software that you update regularly. Steer clear of spyware. Download free software only from sites you know and trust. Don’t install software without knowing what it is. Set Internet Explorer browser security to at least “medium.” Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.
6. Click with caution
7. Check your statements
Open your bank statements and credit card statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
8. Stop pre-approved credit offers
Stop most pre-approved credit card offers. They make a tempting target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 1-888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688). Or opt out online at www.optoutprescreen.com.
9. Check your credit reports – for free
One of the best ways to protect against identity theft is to monitor your credit history. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Request all three reports at once, or be your own no-cost credit-monitoring service. Just spread out your requests, ordering from a different bureau every four months. (More comprehensive monitoring services from the credit bureaus cost from $44 to over $100 per year.) Order your free annual credit reports by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
10. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions when a business or agency asks for your personal information. Ask how it will be used, ask how it will be shared, and how it will be protected. Explain that you’re concerned about identity theft. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, consider taking your business somewhere else.
How to Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
If you are aware someone has obtained or misused your personal or financial information, call one of the companies and ask for an initial fraud alert on your credit report. If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, you can also place an initial fraud alert. For example, you may want to place a fraud alert if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen. You may also want to place a fraud alert if your personal information was exposed in a data breach. A fraud alert is free. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert.
An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. The initial alert stays on your report for at least 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days. It allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you.
Step one: Contact one credit reporting agency. Ask the company to put a fraud alert on your credit file. Confirm the company you call will contact the other two companies. Placing the alert is free.
Step two: Update your files. Record the dates you made calls or sent letters. Keep copies of the letters in your files.
Step three: Mark your calendar. The initial fraud alert stays on your report for 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days.