Since identity theft is of concern, it’s important to remember that there are steps you can take to minimize the risk and help protect your privacy and identity. Shred documents containing your personal information before
discarding them. Secure your personal information at home and at work. Before disclosing any personal information, make sure you know why it is required and how it will be used.
Obtain your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once every 6-12 months and review them for accuracy. (You can get a free copy of your credit report each year at www.annualcreditreport.com). Use caution when responding to e-mails requesting personal information. When in doubt, contact the sender of the request through a known, secure channel (phone number on back of credit card or a known website address).
Here are few other suggestions to consider which may protect you from this modern day scourge:
1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”
3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the “For” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check-processing channels will not have access to it.
4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks. You can add it if it is necessary. However, if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Also carry a photocopy of your passport when traveling either here or abroad.
6. When you check out of a hotel that uses cards for keys (and they all seem to do that now), do not turn the “keys” in. Take them with you and destroy them. Those little cards have on them all of the information you gave the hotel, including address and credit card numbers and expiration dates. Someone with a card reader, or employee of the hotel, can access all that information with no problem whatsoever.
If you are the victim of identity theft, outlined below are some steps to take to limit the damage :
1. We have all been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. However, the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.
2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
3. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. There will be records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves’ purchases.
Listed below are the numbers you need to contact in the event that your wallet or identity is stolen:
1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3.) Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271