Identity theft happens all too frequently. A few careless mistakes with your personal information and you could be in the clutches of a ID thief.
Within minutes, someone could have your social security number, date of birth, and your mother's maiden name-all the crucial information needed to begin opening new credit in your name and placing fraudulent charges on your existing credit accounts.
How do you prevent identity theft and fraud from happening to you? Here are 10 steps to safeguarding your personal information and make sure ne'er do wells don't snatch your credit identity.
1. Be Alert - Whenever you're using your debit or credit card, make sure that no one can see you put in your pin number or get a close look at your card. Debt cards and pin numbers are prized by identity thieves because they give them direct and quick access to your cash (checking account). Even with credit cards, a quick peek over the shoulder in the check-out line can give a thief your credit card number, name, and CVV. That's all they need to start shopping online at your expense.
2. Don't Carry Your Social Security Card - A social security number is one of the key pieces of information a thief needs to cause major financial problems for you. Make sure to keep your social security card filed away in a safe place-preferably at home under lock and key or in a safe deposit box..
3. Send and Receive all Mail from the Post Office - Your mail is full of the types of information identity thieves need to pad their pockets. Many identity theft rings have involved systematic ways to steal and pilfer the keys to your identity and bank accounts from your mailbox. Consequently, if you don't receive your mail to a locked mailbox you should consider using a post office box for your banking and credit account correspondence. I also recommend sending all of your bills directly from the post office.
4. Review All Financial Statements for Accuracy - Whenever your bank or credit card statement arrives in the mail, make sure to review all transactions for accuracy. This is your best, front line defense from identity theft. If there are any questionable charges on your account, let your financial institution or credit card company know immediately, freeze all cards linked to that account, and notify the three credit reporting agencies of fraudulent activity on your account.
5. Shred All Unwanted Documents - If you do not plan to use or file away documents that contain your personal information, especially if they are pre-approval forms or credit card offers, then you should shred them immediately using a cross-cut shredder. Identity thieves are also famous for rummaging through your garbage to gather vital information from you.
6. Review Your Credit Report Regularly - Obtain a copy of your credit report at least once a year, but we recommend monthly. This is the only way to spot new accounts thieves open in your name-another popular strategy to make money off your identity. If you're not reviewing your credit report regularly a thief could be destroying your credit, taking out loans, and opening unauthorized credit cards in your name for months before you are any the wiser. If you do spot unknown or fraudulent accounts in your name, notify all three credit reporting agencies immediately.
7. Never Give Out Personal Information Over the Phone - If a telemarketer, solicitor, or anyone else asks for your personal information over the phone, always err on the side of caution. Never give out credit or debit card numbers, your social security number, or your date of birth over the phone. Always ask what the information will be used for, whether it will be shared, and with whom it will be shared. If it is one of your financial institutions and your wary, tell them you will call back them back on the published customer service number. Use good judgment in all of these scenarios.
8. Never Carry More Credit Cards Than You Need - If you only need one credit card, then only carry the one with you in your wallet. File away extra credit cards under lock and key. Also, ensure that you shred old credit cards when the new ones come in.
9. Use a Filing System - File all the items that contain personal information that you don't need to and should be carrying with you. Items that should be filed include: birth certificates, passports, and social security cards. I recommend locking them in a fireproof lock box at home or a safe deposit box at your bank.
10. Use Caution Online - When performing online banking transactions or when placing an order online, make sure that all the personal information you are entering online is on a secure website using SSL-look for the padlock in your browser. This is especially important if you are using Wifi in a public place (i.e., library, restaurant, coffee shop). Sophisticated identity thieves can steal your credit card and identity information straight out of the air.
Identity theft is a major crime wrecking the credit and lives of thousands of Americans every year. However, it is a crime that can be prevented with a reasonable amount of vigilance.