Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, like your name, Social Security number (SSN) or credit card number, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Don’t want to be a victim? You can take special precautions to make sure your personal information doesn’t fall into the hands of wouldbe thieves.
Guard your information. Don’t give out your personal information via email or on the Internet unless you initiate the inquiry. Your bank or credit card company will never ask you to verify your account information by email.
Be password savvy. Create hard-to-break passwords for your email account(s), bank account and school information. Never use your birth date, name or phone number as a password. Choose a password with a mix of characters and numbers that would be hard to guess. Use a password checker, like the one found at Microsoft.com.
Check your credit report. One of the quickest and easiest ways to guard yourself against identity theft is to routinely check your credit report. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free report from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies.
Keep personal documents safe. Store personal papers, such as your birth certificate, Social Security card, loan information and insurance policies, in a fire-proof lock box. These are relatively inexpensive to purchase and available from a variety of stores.
Shred unnecessary documents. Invest in a cross-cut shredder and destroy all unnecessary documents that contain personal information.
Protect your SSN. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet, and don’t have your SSN printed on your checks. If you’re asked to give or confirm your SSN in a public setting, try to avoid providing it verbally. Instead, jot it down on a piece of paper and shred it later. Or, better yet, use a calculator to punch it in and then hit the clear button when finished.
Put a stop to junk mail. Opt out of receiving pre-approved credit offers by calling 888.567.8688 or visiting OptOutPrescreen.com, a service run by the consumer reporting agencies.
Get online. Switch to online bill payment methods to eliminate your paper trail. In addition, 24-hour account access will allow you to more closely monitor your account activity and respond faster to fraudulent charges.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’ll need to act fast. Follow these four steps to limit the amount of damage done to your good name.