10 Ways to Avoid Identity Theft
October 12, 2017 by Jeff Farrington
The phone rings and it’s a collection agency demanding payment on an overdue account you didn’t know you had. Or perhaps you notice purchases on your credit card statement that you didn’t make.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identification information without your permission. The thief might obtain credit or open bank accounts in your name, make purchases using your credit card, or even acquire a driver’s license or Social Security card using your name. Identity theft can happen to anyone and it’s important to take steps to protect your personal information.
Here are 10 steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Guard your Social Security number. Give out your Social Security number (SSN) only when necessary or required by law and check your Social Security statement at least annually. Everyone age 25-60 will receive a Social Security statement in the mail every five years. After age 60, an annual statement is mailed to those not yet receiving Social Security benefits. To gain access to your Social Security information anytime, the IRS recommends setting up a my Social Security account.
- Memorize it. When you create new passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs), memorize them, don’t write them down. Also, do not use the last four digits of your SSN, your birthday, your mother’s maiden name, or any other easily discovered information in PINs or passwords.
- Shred or destroy. Shred or otherwise destroy any documents that contain personal information. These include bank statements, credit reports, credit card offers, charge receipts, insurance forms, and checks.
- Carry a minimum of personal information. Don’t carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport in your wallet or purse unless you need them. As a precaution, make copies of your credit cards and record your bank and investment account numbers. Keep this information in a secure place with the telephone numbers for customer service or the fraud department for each, so you can quickly notify them if an issue arises.
- Monitor bank statements and credit card bills. Thoroughly review each credit card and bank statement for unauthorized or fraudulent activity. Pay attention to your billing cycles, and follow up with your bank or creditors if bills or statements don’t arrive on time. This may mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his or her tracks. Many credit card issuers also offer automatic alerts that inform you instantly when and where your credit card was used, the amount charged and other helpful information.
- Secure your snail mail. Identity thieves have been known to raid mailboxes for personal information. Promptly remove delivered mail from your mailbox. Deposit outgoing mail in post office mail boxes or at your local post office, rather than leaving it in your mailbox. If you will be away from home for an extended time, request that the post office hold your mail.
- Treat personal information with care. Don’t divulge personal information on the phone or the internet unless you initiated the contact, know the company is reputable, and/or are sure the website is secure. Some websites and businesses now use two-factor authentication (2FA), which may also provide an added layer of security.
- Install a firewall and shield your IP address. A firewall and/or IP address shield may help prevent hackers from accessing your computer, using your IP address for illegal activities, and obtaining personal and financial data from your hard drive. When you are ready to get a new computer, remove data from the old one using a strong “wipe” utility program. Don’t rely solely on the delete function to remove files containing sensitive information.
- Check your credit report. Review your credit report at least yearly to check for errors and fraudulent use of your account. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that the three nationwide credit reporting companies provide free annual credit reports upon request. The companies have one central website, annualcreditreport.com, for ordering or call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-322-8228. Note: This is the only legitimate website for ordering free FCRA- mandated credit reports.
- Consult with a CPA. If you think your identity has been stolen, a CPA can help you take steps to remedy the problem and get your life back on track. Visit Gordon Advisors for more information.
If you don’t know where to start or if you’d like to have a third party person assist you with the process – give me a call at 248-952-0269 or email me and firstname.lastname@example.org, I have decades of experience in management and improving operational performance.