Follow these tips to help ensure that you do not become a victim. Adapted from the National Crime Prevention Council.
- Do not put outgoing mail, especially bill payments, in personal curbside mailboxes. Use United States Postal Service mailboxes instead, or, better yet, drop off your mail inside a post office.
- Use a locked mailbox with a slot at home, if at all possible.
- Do not put outgoing mail in an unguarded “outbox” at work.
- Do not write your account number on the outside of envelopes containing bill payments.
- When you are out of town, have the post office hold your mail for you or have someone you trust pick it up every day.
- Make sure nobody is standing right behind you when you are using an ATM. He or she may be trying to photograph your card number and password. Always shield your hand and the screen, even if no one is right behind you.
- Pay your bills online using a secure site if that service is available.
- Do not give out your credit card number on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secure site.
- Examine your credit reports from the major national credit reporting firms at least once a year to make sure no one has established credit in your name or is ruining your credit after stealing your identity. The recently enacted Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act requires that each of the three major credit reporting agencies provide consumers with a free credit report once a year.
- If you have to give out personal or financial information from a public phone or by cell phone, make sure no one is listening or wait until you are in a more secure location.
- Shred all financial statements, billing statements, and preapproved credit card offers and the like before throwing them in the trash. Cross-cut shredding is best. No shredder? Use scissors to cut documents.
- Minimize the number of identification and credit cards you carry with you. Take only what is absolutely necessary.
- Cancel all credit cards that you have not used in the last six months. Open credit is a prime target if an identity thief spies it in your credit report.
- Write to the Direct Marketing Association to have your name taken off direct mail lists. This will stop the dangerous flow of preapproved credit card offers to your address. This is where to write:
- Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
- Direct Marketing Association
- Call the credit reporting industry at 888-567-8688 as an extra measure to stop credit card and insurance solicitations from coming to your home.
- Use traveler’s checks instead of personal bank checks.
- Examine all of your bank and credit card statements each month for mistakes or unfamiliar charges that might be the sign of an identity thief at work.
- Make sure you know when your bills and bank statements normally arrive. If one is late, call to find out why. It may have fallen into the wrong hands.
- Use direct deposit, whenever possible, instead of a paper paycheck.
- Do not have new checks mailed to you at home; pick them up at the bank.
- Be alert if you get a call from someone purporting to be from your bank who asks for personal data to update your “records.” This is almost always a scam. If you are in doubt, hang up and call the bank yourself.
- Commit all passwords to memory. Never write them down or carry them with you.
- Do not give out your financial or personal information over the phone or Internet, unless you have initiated the contact or know for certain with whom you are dealing.
- Do not exchange personal information for “prizes.” Ask to have the offer put in writing and mailed to you so you can consider it more carefully.
- Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Treat it as confidential information.
- Identity thieves have been known to take Social Security numbers from medical charts in hospitals, where the numbers are frequently used as patient identifiers. If you are hospitalized, tell your doctor or nurse to be careful with your chart.
- Destroy the hard drive of your computer if you are selling it, giving it to charity, or otherwise disposing of it. Do not just erase the hard drive; physically remove it.
- Keep your personal information confidential and learn as much as you can about the various kinds of scams being perpetrated to steal your identity. The newspapers are full of tips.
- Do not carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it in a safe place at home.
- Do not carry automotive insurance policies in your car. Keep them locked up at home.
- Do not keep your car registration in your car. If possible, carry it in your wallet.
- Keep your wallet in your front pocket so a pickpocket cannot take it. Hold your purse close against your body through its straps.
- Burglar-proof your home, then burglar-proof what is inside your home, especially your financial records and important documents (put them inside a locked filing cabinet or safe).