Here are some practical tips that you can use to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
1. Buy a cross-cut type shredder. Shred all your important papers and especially pre-approved credit applications received in your name and other financial information that provides access to your private information. Don’t forget to shred your credit card receipts.
2. Be aware of “Dumpster Diving.” Make sure that you do not throw anything away that someone could use to become you. Anything with your identifiers must be shredded (cross-cut) before throwing away.
3. Be watchful at ATM’s and using Phone Cards. “Shoulder Surfers” can get your “PIN Number” and get access to your accounts.
4. Have all of your checks delivered to your bank – not to your home address.
5. Do not put checks in the mail from your home mailbox. Drop them off at a U.S. Mailbox or the U.S. Post Office. Mail theft is increasing. It’s easy to change the name of the recipient on the check with an acid wash.
6. When you order new credit cards in the mail, or your previous ones have expired, watch the calendar to make sure that you get the card within the appropriate time. If it is not received by a certain date, call the credit card grantor immediately and find out if the card was sent. Find out if a change of address was filed if you don’t receive the card or a billing statement.
7. Cancel all credit cards that you do not use or have not used in six months. Thieves use these very easily – open credit is a prime target.
8. Put passwords on all your accounts and do not use your mother’s maiden name. Make up a fictitious word using a capital letter, numbers, and characters. Change passwords often.
9. Get a post office box or a locked mailbox, if you possibly can.
10. Ask all financial institutions, doctors’ offices, etc., what they do with your private information and make sure that they shred it and protect your information. Tell them why.
11. Empty your wallet of all extra credit cards and social security numbers, etc. Do not carry any identifiers you do not need. Don’t carry your birth certificate, social security card, or passport, unless necessary.
12. Memorize your social security number and passwords.
13. When a person calls you at home or at work, and you do not know this person, never give out any of your personal information. If they tell you they are a credit grantor of yours call them back at the number that you know is the true number, and ask for that party to discuss personal information. Provide only information that you believe is absolutely necessary.
14. Do not put your social security number on your checks or your credit receipts. If a business requests your social security number, give them an alternate number and tell them why. They do not need that to identify you. If a government agency requests your social security number, there must be a privacy notice accompanying the request.
15. Do not put your telephone number on your checks.
16. Get credit cards and business cards with your picture on them.
17. Do not put your credit card account number on the Internet (unless it is encrypted on a secured site.) Never put account numbers on the outside of envelopes, or on your checks.
18. When you are asked to identify yourself at schools, employers, or any other kind of institutional identification, ask to have an alternative to your social security number. Unfortunately, your health insurance carrier often uses your social security number as your identification number. Try to change that by using another form of identification.
19. In conjunction with a credit card sale do not put your address, telephone number, or driver’s license number on the statement.
20. Monitor all your bank statements from every credit card every month. Check to see if there is anything that you do not recognize and call the credit grantor to verify that it is truly yours.
21. Order your credit report at least three times a year from each of three credit reporting agencies. Review it carefully. If you see anything that appears fraudulent, immediately put a fraud alert on your reports by calling the three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
22. Immediately correct all mistakes on your credit reports in writing. Send those letters Return Receipt Requested, and identify the problems item by item with a copy of the credit report back to the credit reporting agency. You should hear from them within 30 days.
23. Take your name off all promotional lists. Call the three credit reporting agency numbers to opt out of pre-approved offers.
ALWAYS BE CAUTIOUS, STAY ALERT, AND REMAIN IN CONTROL OF YOUR PERSONAL IDENTITY.
If you have any questions about this post, need help with your budget, or need to get your personal finances under control, please don’t hesitate to call our office. Don’t struggle on your own — confidential personal financial coaching and counseling services are available.
SMART MONEY TIPS are published to provide practical personal financial tips relating to budgeting, saving, spending, debt, credit, financial wellness, planning for the future, and other personal finance topics. For comments or questions, please e-mail us at at Linda@financialfreedomcoaching.com. We are located in the Tampa Bay, Florida area and are dedicated to educating you to take control of your personal finances and financial future. Services include confidential personal financial coaching and mentoring, personal financial counseling, and financial education through financial literacy seminars. Linda A. Stortz is a CPA and financial literacy advocate, having earned the Accredited Financial Counselor, Certified Credit Counselor, and Certified Credit Report Reviewer credentials. For more tips, please go to http://www.financialfreedomcoaching.com.
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Linda A Stortz