Preventing Identity Theft
Each year millions of Americans have their identities stolen, and billions of dollars in financial losses are attributed to identity (ID) theft. However, there are steps you can take to help protect your identity. Following these steps my help prevent ID theft or minimize losses associated with it.
How To Protect Yourself
- Never provide your personal information in response to an unsolicited request, whether it is over the phone, on the Internet, or via text message. Emails and Internet pages created by “phishers” may look exactly like a legit email or real webpage. You may even see a fake padlock icon that ordinarily is used to denote a secure site. If you did not initiate the communication, do not provide any information.
- Never provide your account information and/or password over the phone or in response to an unsolicited request. A financial institution would never ask you to verify your account information or confirm a password online. Thieves armed with this information and your account number can help themselves to your money.
- Check your bank and credit card balances at least once a week. Doing so can help you catch unauthorized activity early. ID thieves can do a lot of damage in the 30 days between statements. If you can use electronic account access, check your account activity online regularly.
- Shred all important documents. Don’t send documents with account information directly to the trash. This may include preapproved credit card applications, old bills, checking account deposit slips, expired credit cards, etc. ID thefts are notorious for rummaging through trash and dumpsters looking for this information.
- Protect your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card with you or keep the number on a piece of paper in your wallet or purse. Use your social security number only when it's absolutely necessary.
- Annually check your credit report. Download a free annual credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.comor call 1-877-322-8228.
- Act responsibly on social networking sites. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are very attractive to ID thieves. Depending on your privacy settings, ID thieves have access to your birth date, where you work, names and photos of family members and much more. Keep your social networking profiles private, limited to your friends only.
- Never set your computer system to remember your password. Although it may seem convenient, this leaves you more susceptible to ID theft.
- Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your name, your mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your social security number. An ideal password is long with a mix of letters, varying punctuation, symbols and numbers. Learn more about creating strong passwords.
- Keep your passwords safe. Never share your passwords with anyone else, and never provide your password in an email or in response to an email request.
What To Do If You Fall Victim
- Contact your financial institution and/or credit card companies immediately and alert them to the situation.
- Close accounts you think have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Call the security or fraud department of each associated company or financial institution. Follow up in writing and supply copies of supporting documents.
- It is important to notify credit card companies and financial institutions in writing. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document when and what the company received. Keep copies of your correspondence and enclosures.
- Report all suspicious contacts to the Federal Trade Commission through the Internet at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).
- Check with your state Attorney General's office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft. Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory for the phone number, or check http://www.naag.org/ for a list of state Attorneys General. The Office of Kentucky Attorney General site is http://ag.ky.gov/Pages/default.aspx
- If you disclose sensitive information, contact one of the three major credit bureaus listed below and discuss whether to place a fraud alert on your file. A fraud alert will help prevent thieves from opening a new account in your name.
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
Fullerton, CA 92634
- Or find out when you are eligible for a free report.
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105283
Atlanta, GA 30348-5283
- Identity Theft Resource Center: http://www.idtheftcenter.org/
- 13 Things an Identity Thief Won't Tell You