This article explains how to avoid and prevent identity theft.
Prevent Identity Theft
Everyone should check their credit report at least once a year. Americans can get one free copy of their file from each credit reporting agency per year at Annual Credit Report. If you suspect something is wrong with your credit report, the first thing to do is get a copy of your credit report from the credit reporting agencies handling your information. There is a list of world credit reporting agencies at http://www.ccmostwanted.com\topics\idtheftCredit.htm.
Check every detail – your name, address, each creditor, each amount, each account number, each employer, and each inquiry to be sure there are none from companies you did not contact and the information is accurate. Any information that is accurate – good or bad – remains in the credit history for a specified time period according to the law that applies. Many identity theft crimes are credit card fraud when your credit card or credit card number is stolen and used. Should this happen, immediately contact your credit card issuer. Also contact the credit reporting agency using their “Dispute Form". You should keep copies of all submitted forms and information with proof of the date, and if possible, the time. If Americans do not receive an acknowledgement from the credit reporting agency about the dispute in 30 days, they can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Continue this process until the information in your credit file is accurate. Then, monitor the information in your credit reports at least once a year.
Guidelines to Help Avoid Identity Theft
Here are some guidelines to help protect your sensitive personal information and help prevent identity theft.
- Dispose of personal information safely. Shred credit card and ATM receipts after they are posted on statements. Shred credit, bank and account statements, credit card solicitations, pre-approved credit offers, unused credit card offers, prescription labels, identification cards and junk mail that are no longer useful or have expired such as drivers licenses, government and state identification cards, insurance cards, medical identification cards, or drug prescription cards.
- Don’t leave digital copies of sensitive information on a computer. Store copies of personal information and financial records on removable media kept in a safe deposit box.
- Only carry on your person identification and credit or bank cards that you expect to use that day. There is no reason to carry birth certificates, passports, all your credit cards, insurance cards or social security card.
- Don’t return warranty cards for purchased items. The receipt is what you need for proof of purchase to make a claim.
- Never agree to return an overpayment of excess funds. Request payment to be reissued for the correct amount.
- To verify a check, call the bank issuing the check or money order or a check verification company but do not use the telephone number printed on the check or money order.
- It is very important for anyone who has a social security number – including children – to monitor the information in their credit reports on a regular basis to be sure the information is accurate and complete. Children under the age of 18 typically should not have a credit report unless they are employed or applied for credit. Nearly four percent of American identity theft victims are children who should not even have a credit report. Unfortunately, if you can imagine, there are family members and relatives who illegally apply for credit in the child’s name. There are also professional identity theft thieves who search for and sell children’s social security numbers along with everyone else’s. Protect the social security numbers of your children and family.
The majority of American lenders accept the American consumer FICO score as a standard. You do not have to request credit reports from the major credit reporting agencies at the same time. Read the publication “Your Access to Free Credit Reports" by the Federal Trade Commission.
Americans should pay attention to their Social Security Statement of Earnings and Benefits. The Social Security Administration mails a statement each year about three months before your birthday. The statement contains a record of earnings history and an estimate of how much the worker and the employer paid in Social Security taxes. It also includes estimates of benefits you (and your family) may be eligible for now and in the future. If you need to order your statement at another time, visit the Social Security Administration.
- Don’t give your credit card, insurance, hospital, banking, or social security information to someone who called you unless you absolutely know the person, their voice, and the reputable company.
- Request organizations that may use your social security number as an identification number to change it. Possible organizations can include: drivers’ licenses, hospital identification cards, insurance cards and utility companies.
- Be sure when you punch your numbers or passwords into an automated teller machine, computer, or telephone in a public place, your body covers another person’s view of the numbers being used.
- Don’t display your personal information (invoices, bills, statements, home address, email address, account numbers, passwords) for easy reading by any observer on luggage, key rings, websites, tables, desks, counters, or tattoos.
- Don’t make your passwords, logon information, or personal identification numbers (PINs) available to relatives, friends, employees, or co-workers.
- Be sure your monthly statements (banking, utility bills, credit card, financial accounts) arrive regularly. Check each item on each statement. When you find errors, be sure to immediately discuss the discrepancy with the company.
- Be careful about computer infectors, including Trojans and spyware that can be installed on your home computer or cell phone that can send your information to an unknown person or to mirror your keystrokes to steal your passwords and personal accounts information. Use anti-virus, encryption, and spyware detection software. These are good precautions for computer intrusion. No one wants a stranger snooping through, replacing, altering or stealing the belongings in their home, car, or computer.
- Be careful about phishing scams so you do not unknowingly provide your personal online or financial information to unscrupulous persons, companies, or websites.
- Be careful about cashiers’ checks in your postal mail from a seemingly familiar or reputable company without accompanying explanations or an account statement. When your (the depositors) bank discovers the account the check is written on is closed, the bank automatically returns the check to the account holder of the check. This provides the account holder with your (the depositors) banking information. It also makes you responsible for the funds deposited. Remember that reputable companies do not issue checks without accompanying letters or statements.
- Don’t allow incoming mail to accumulate in the mailbox. Put all outgoing mail in post office collection boxes. Don’t put outgoing mail in an unsecure mailbox like the one at your driveway or front door. Try to use a post office box for all correspondence from government agencies and businesses. This correspondence includes all monthly statements, offers, checks, and anything else that can individually identify you along with your name and address.
- Check your homeowner’s insurance policy to determine if costs associated with restoring your identity and credit history are covered or are available at an additional charge.
Be aware of CyberLover, a new sophisticated social engineering software, programmed to impersonate a real person looking for love online typically in chatrooms, social networking websites and dating websites. In reality CyberLover collects personal information such as addresses, maiden names, phone numbers or birthdays then makes the collected information available to criminals for identity theft and any other purpose the criminal can imagine. As of December 2007 CyberLover was limited to Russian websites but no one can predict for certain if or when CyberLover will expand to websites of other languages. You can read the news article by Nicole Martin at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/12/10/ninternet110.xml.
- As an employee, try not to use “out of office" replies with incoming email and phone calls. This is not different than posting a sign on your office or the front door of your house with your name, job title, how long you will be away, when you will return, and your contact information. You can see the potential for the clever fraudulent mind. Forward your incoming email and phone calls to a co-worker with their permission instead.
Highlights of Identity Theft
These 3 articles feature recognizing, preventing and surviving identity theft.
- Identity Theft (Part 1 of 3)
- Identity Theft (Part 2 of 3)
- Identity Theft Part 3 of 3