Imagine this: You try to use your credit card and are told it’s over the limit.
You know that’s impossible because you just got the card. You check with the issuing company and find someone else has been using your name and social security number. Not only did they use this credit card, but they have also opened a variety of other accounts that are all past due.
This scenario is a very real possibility.
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. And what makes it so devastating is that many times you don’t know you’re a victim until months later when the overdue bills come and hostile bill collectors’ call. Before you know it, your good credit is gone. The damage is done!
Thieves use various forms of fraud and deception. They steal credit cards to charge on existing accounts or steal personal information to open new accounts and charge thousands of dollars. Over one-half million new identify theft cases are reported annually and the number is growing quickly. Because it’s a relatively new crime, many states don’t identify it as a crime and if they do, the punishment is minimal. And what’s worse, most thieves go uncaught.
Typically, the damage criminals do when they steal another person’s identity and use it to commit fraud, often takes far longer to undo than it took the criminal to commit the crimes.
What can you do to help this New Age, insidious crime? Here are 20 important suggestions:
1. Check your credit reports annually. This is your first and best prevention. Contact the three major credit reporting agencies (www.Equifax.com, www.Experian.com, and www.Transunion.com) and get copies. Look for incorrect information. Report discrepancies immediately to them.
2. Guard your Social Security (SSN), driver’s license and health insurance card numbers. Many companies ask for them for their records, but ask them to use another number. NEVER give your SSN to anyone if you didn’t make the contact first. Don’t carry your SSN card with you and never have it pre-printed on checks.
3. Guard your passwords and PIN numbers. Don’t let them been seen. At an ATM, look around to ensure no one is standing close. Don’t write them down or keep them in your wallet.
4. Don’t store passwords on your computer. If you need reminders, lock them up in a safe place. Use passwords that are hard to decipher. Don’t use your mother’s maiden name, birth date or the last four digits of your SSN or telephone number. Use a combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers if you can.
5. Know when your bills are coming. If one is late, call the company to find out why. A missing statement could mean that someone has contacted them and changed your billing address so you won’t see charges piling up. If you are short of cash and cannot pay this bill – apply for a short-term $5000 loan to get yourself back on track.
6. Shred all unneeded documents that show personal information. Remember all those unsolicited credit card applications that you throw away? They are an open invitation to an identity thief to open an account in your name. Shred credit card receipts, financial documents and mix them in with the smelliest, gooiest garbage you have as further discouragement.
7. Never put mail in your open mailbox for the postal worker. Deposit it at the post office or in a locked mail drop. Thieves patrol residential areas and steal mail to gain personal information.
8. If you’re going out of town, tell the post office to hold your mail or rent a post office box with a lock. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a locked, community mailbox, talk your neighbors into getting one to protect all of you!
9. When speaking on your cell phone, never give out personal information, credit card numbers or anything else a thief can use. Radio frequencies used by these devices are easily intercepted or overhead.
10. If you surf the Net, consider getting a “firewall” to protect information and prevent hackers from breaking into your PC.
11. If you purchase through the Net, always look for the little “yellow lock” in the lower right hand of the page that shows it’s secure.
12. Thieves use software programs to search for e-mail addresses on large websites so never use your e-mail address as your user ID. They send you an official-looking e-mail asking to verify or update account information. Report any suspicious emails to your Internet provider.
13. This also applies to someone who claims to be a bill collector, government employee or utility worker. Call the company they say they represent to get verification.
14. Create a unique password combination on your laptop and never use an automatic login. Log off when you’re done. Never store financial information on your computer unless absolutely necessary.
15. When you get rid of an old computer, just don’t delete personal information. An identity thief has special software that can retrieve it. “Wipe” utilities are available that make files unrecoverable.
16. Ask all the places that have your personal information, doctors’ offices, accountants, loan officers, insurance companies, schools, courts, and the government, how they protect your information from thieves. Ask them to shred any documents with personal information.
17. While at work, keep your purse or wallet in a safe place.
18. Carry only the minimum number of cards and identification.
19. Always keep credit card numbers, bank account numbers, driver’s license and their respective customer service telephone numbers in a secure place.
20. Print this list and share it with families, friends and business associates!
Have your own tips to add? Get in touch with us!