Protection Against Identity Theft
Posted 10/19/2011 by Tom

Protection Against Identity Theft

Q: How can I protect myself against identity theft?

A: Here are some steps to follow:

  1. DON’T give out your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary. Many companies collect more information than they really need. Make sure that it’s something they have to have and make sure they’ll protect your privacy.
  2. DESTROY any unwanted credit card offers. This means rip, shred, burn, whatever you can do. These pre-approved offers come almost daily. If you don’t want the three major credit bureaus to sell your name to these companies, you can “opt out” by either writing to the three major credit bureaus or by calling (888) 5OPTOUT (567-8688). This will remove your name, for two years, from mailing and telemarketing lists that come from TransUnion, Equifax, Experian, and INNOVIS. You can also write to the Direct Marketing Association’s mail preference service to have your name removed from some mailing lists.
  3. DON’T put any other information besides your name and address on your checks, and keep a close watch on your checkbook both when you’re writing checks and when it is lying around. Someone can memorize your name, address and phone number during the short time it takes you to write a check. SHRED (cross-cut) any sensitive documents before you throw them into the trash. This may seem like an extreme measure, but dumpster diving happens all the time and turns up a lot more personal information than you may realize.
  4. DON’T carry your Social Security card, passport, or birth certificate in your wallet or purse. Also, only carry as many credit cards as are absolutely necessary. It has also been suggested that you photocopy everything you carry in your wallet to make canceling things easier in the event that your wallet is stolen.
  5. REVIEW your credit report every year to make sure there haven’t been any new credit cards or other accounts issued (to someone other than you) and to make sure there haven’t been inquiries by people you haven’t initiated business with. There are also services you can subscribe to that will alert you to any changes in your credit file.
  6. NEVER give out personal information on the phone to someone you don’t know and who initiated the call. Often, scam artists phone unsuspecting victims pretending to be their financial services company and request information to be provided over the phone. Usually, the story is to “update records” or sell a product. Get their name, phone number and address, and then call them back at the number you have on file or that is printed on the statements you receive.
  7. REVIEW your monthly credit card statement each month to make sure there aren’t any charges showing up that aren’t yours. Also, make sure you get a monthly statement. If the statement is late, contact the credit card company. You never know when someone may have turned in a change-of-address form so they could make a few more weeks of purchases on your credit card without you noticing.
  8. DON’T mail bills or documents that contain personal data (like tax forms or checks) from your personal mail box. Take them directly to the post office or an official postal service mailbox. It’s too easy for someone to take mail out of your mailbox on the street. From there, they can dip your checks in special chemicals to remove the ink and then rewrite them to themselves!
  9. If you’re ever denied credit, FIND OUT WHY, especially if you haven’t reviewed your credit report lately. This may be the first indication you get that someone has stolen your identity and is racking up charges in your name.
  10. REACT QUICKLY if a creditor or merchant calls you about charges you didn’t make. This too may be the first notice you get that someone has stolen your identity. Get as much information from them as you can and investigate immediately.
  11. GUARD deposit slips as closely as you do checks. Not only do they have your name, address and account number printed on them, but they can also be used to withdraw money from your account. All a thief has to do is write a bad check, deposit it into your account and use the “less cash received” line to withdraw your money.

What about transactions on the internet?

The ease of shopping and comparing products and prices online has made it an attractive option for many shoppers. How can you make sure your transactions are safe and your credit card information going only where you intend it to? There are several ways to help ensure safe transactions on the Internet, and more are becoming possible all the time. Some of these include:

  1. Stored-value cards (cards that you can buy with specified, loaded dollar amounts)
  2. Smart cards (cards that can act as credit cards, debit cards and/or stored-value cards)
  3. Point-of-sale (POS) devices (like your PDA or mobile phone)
  4. Digital cash
  5. E-wallets
  6. Online payment services like PayPal

The most prevalent method for paying for the things you purchase online is still the credit card. The following list provides some tips on how to make sure your transaction is secure.

  1. Use the latest Internet browser. The program that you use to surf the Internet is called a browser. This software has built-in encryption capabilities that scramble the information you send to a server. Using the most recent browser ensures that the data is protected using the latest encryption technology. This technology also uses a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which is an Internet security protocol used by Internet browsers and Web servers to transmit sensitive information. The server receiving the data uses special “keys” to decode it. You can make sure you are on an SSL by checking the URL — the http at the beginning of the address should have changed to https. Also, you should notice a small lock icon in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window.
  2. Look for digital certificates that authenticate the entity you are dealing with. Independent services like VeriSign will authenticate the identity of the Web site you are visiting. Web sites that use this service (usually those that sell items or services online) will have the VeriSign logo. By clicking on the logo, you can be assured that the site is legitimate, rather than a clone of the legitimate company set up to collect your personal and financial information.
  3. Read the privacy policy. The information you enter on the Web site should be kept confidential. Make sure you read the company’s privacy policy to ensure that your personal information won’t be sold to others. Services like Trust-E review a company’s privacy policy (for a fee) and then allow the company to post the Trust-E logo if its privacy policy follows certain industry standards for consumer protection.
  4. Only use one credit card for all of your online purchases.
  5. Never give out passwords or user ID information online unless you know who you are dealing with and why they need it. Don’t give it out to your Internet service provider if you get an e-mail requesting it. This is a relatively recent scam used to access your account and get your credit card number, along with whatever other personal information is there.
  6. Keep records of all of your Internet transactions. Watch your credit card statement for the charges and make sure they’re accurate.
  7. After you’ve made purchases online, check your e-mail. Merchants often send confirmation e-mails or other communications about your order.

Source: How Stuff Works