There’s a lot of advice about how to deal with identity theft around these days – some helpful, some unrealistic, and some a little ridiculous. We’ve done the research for you and present the following easy-to-do, indispensable steps. These items should be considered MUST-DOs if you’re serious about minimizing the effect identity theft can have on your life.
DON’T LEAVE PRINTED PERSONAL AND/OR FINANCIAL INFORMATION LYING AROUND AT HOME.
This is a no-brainer, right? Yet more often than not, identity thieves are friends or relatives of the victim who get their personal information offline – not electronically. Keep checkbooks, social security information, billing information, and anything else a thief could use to steal your identity out of sight and secure.
MINIMIZE THE RISKS POSED BY MAIL THEFT.
Shred bank and credit statements and credit card offers by hand before throwing them away. Even better, get a crosscut shredder. Don’t mail checks from your home mailbox. Instead, drop them off at a U.S. Mailbox or the U.S. Post Office. Also, have new checks delivered to your bank, not your home.
GET AND REVIEW YOUR BANK STATEMENTS ELECTRONICALLY.
View your personal finance statements electronically at least twice a month. By doing this, you will spot a fraud much sooner if it happens. Catching a fraud early minimizes the damage thieves can do and usually results in less time and money spent resolving problems.
SUBSCRIBE TO A SERVICE THAT WILL PROVIDE YOU WITH A COPY OF ONE OF YOUR CREDIT REPORTS AND FICO® SCORES ON A REGULAR BASIS.
By monitoring your report and your FICO score for any changes you can’t account for, you’ll know if someone has applied for credit in your name.
CHECK AND REVIEW YOUR FICO SCORES AND CREDIT REPORTS AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR.
When you look at your reports, make sure you recognize all the account information listed. If you see anything you can’t account for, get to the bottom of it as soon as you can. As with electronic statements, checking your FICO scores and credit reports is one of the most sure-fire ways to spot a fraud quickly and minimize any damage done.
AVOID GIVING OUT YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
Your SSN is the key to your credit reports and banking accounts and is the prime target of criminals. Anyone who already has your social security number (5along with other information) already poses a risk: your doctor’s office, accountants, lawyers, loan officer, health insurance, schools, courts, etc. Shady employees at any of these places could steal your identity, so be very choosy about to whom you entrust it in the future. Never put your social security number on your checks or your credit receipts. If a business requests your SSN, ask to give them an alternate number (5such as a driver’s license) instead and tell them why. If a government agency requests your social security number, there must be a privacy notice accompanying the request.
SECURE YOUR HOME COMPUTER.
Install a firewall and buy virus-protection software, and if you dispose of a PC, remove your data with a “wipe” utility program (5erasing files manually isn’t the same thing).
BE SMART ABOUT CHOOSING PASSWORDS.
When choosing passwords, assume that someone already has a bunch of your personal information and is trying to break into your accounts. Don’t use the same password for all your accounts. Avoid using your SSN (5or even a part of it), you or your mom’s maiden name, birth date, middle name, pet’s name or consecutive guessable numbers for passwords. If you have trouble remembering hard-to-guess passwords, write them down and keep them somewhere secure – hide them in a locked drawer, for example. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s nothing compared to having your identity stolen.
SIGNS OF IDENTITY THEFT TO WATCH OUT FOR
Unexpected phone calls from creditors.
If you get a call from a creditor demanding payment for a purchase no one in your family can account for have the caller give you all the information possible and investigate.
Strange credit card charges.
It’s easier to spot these if you keep all your receipts and reconcile them with your statements each month.
Getting turned down for credit unexpectedly.
This is one of the more common ways victims discover they’ve been victimized – don’t be one of them. Subscribe to a service that will provide you with a copy of one of your credit reports and FICO scores on a quarterly basis.
Account usernames and passwords or ATM PINs stop working.
This suggests that an identity thief may have changed your access codes.
If you’re used to getting billed for services you subscribe to and the bills stop arriving, it could mean an identity thief has changed your address in order to use bank accounts without raising suspicion.
Strange information in your files.
If information in a personal file definitely does not match up with you, it could be simply a case of mistaken identity – or it could be more than an innocent mistake. One way to help avoid mistaken identity problems is to use your middle name or middle initial on applications to help distinguish you from others who have the same name.