Identity theft has become one of the fastest growing crimes in America. This unauthorized access to your personal information is used to open new financial accounts or access your existing accounts, enabling the thief to steal your money or charge items on your credit card, leaving you with the bills. But with a few common sense efforts, you can avoid becoming a victim.
Identity thieves are most interested in the personal information that would enable them to pass as you. This includes social security numbers, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and existing account numbers at your financial institutions.
Identity thieves may try to get this information in one of these ways:
- Stealing wallets or purses with everything in them.
- Taking mail from your mailbox, especially bank statements and credit card statements.
- Diverting your mail by using a change of address form at the Post Office.
- Searching through your trash for tossed copies of statements.
- Posing as a representative of your financial institution on the phone and asking about your account.
To keep your information private and help avoid identity theft, here are some of the steps to consider:
- Carry as few credit cards as possible and periodically check to make sure you still have them.
- Avoid carrying your social security card and passport unless they are needed.
- Never print your social security number on your checks.
- Shred all important papers that contain financial information before disposing of them.
- Shred credit card and ATM receipts properly if they contain your account number.
- Consider signing up for online statements and online bill pay to reduce the number of statements in your mailbox.
- Sign new credit cards as soon you receive them.
- Guard your PIN (personal identification number) carefully.
- Make your PIN and passwords hard for someone else to guess. Don’t use your birth date, phone number or last four digits of your social security number.
- Keep a list of your credit card and financial account numbers with phone numbers in a safe place.
- Guard against mail theft by mailing payment envelopes from a collection box instead of raising the flag on your home mailbox.
- Never give personal information over the phone unless you made the call or you know with whom you are speaking.
- Review your financial and credit card statements carefully for unknown transactions. If you see one, call the institution immediately.
- Periodically, order credit reports from the three major credit bureaus to check for fraudulent activity on your accounts.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
While there are no guarantees that these steps will prevent credit identity thieves from attacking you, the harder you make it to steal your identity, the less likely you are to become an identity theft victim.