Avoid Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to obtain credit cards, loans or conduct other financial transactions in your name. These fraudulent transactions can affect your credit rating and finances if they are not identified and handled immediately. It is sad but true in today’s world it is extremely important be aware of identity theft and take whatever steps are necessary to protect you and your family. Below are several important steps you can take to protect yourself.

  1. Protect your Social Security Number (SSN), credit card and debit card numbers, PINs (personal identification numbers), passwords, and other personal information. Never provide this information in response to an unwanted phone call, fax, letter, or email, no matter how friendly or official the circumstances may appear. Likewise, do not preprint your Social Security number, phone number, or driver's license number on your checks. It is too easy for someone who sees your check to copy this personal information and even sell it to an identity thief. If your Social Security number is on your driver's license, ask to use another number.

  2. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Chances are that your mail carrier will deliver a credit card or bank statement, an envelope containing a check, or other items that can be very valuable to a thief. Or perhaps you will mail a check or papers containing account numbers or other personal financial information.

    For incoming mail: Try to use a locked mailbox or other secure location. If your mailbox is not locked or in a secure location, try to promptly remove mail that has been delivered or move the mailbox to a safer place. When ordering new checks, ask about getting the boxes delivered to your bank branch instead of having them mailed to your home and running the risk of finding them sitting outside your front door.

    For outgoing mail containing a check or personal information: Deposit it in a U.S. Postal Service blue collection box, hand it to a mail carrier, or take it to the post office instead of leaving it in your doorway or home mailbox. A mailbox that holds your outgoing bills is a prime target for thieves who cruise
    neighborhoods looking for account information. Even worse is putting up the flag on a mailbox to indicate that outgoing mail is sitting there.

  3. Sign up for direct deposit. Sign up for direct deposit of your paycheck or state or federal benefits, such as Social Security. Direct deposit prevents someone from stealing a check out of your mailbox and forging your signature to access your money.

  4. Keep your financial trash "clean." Thieves can pick through garbage looking for pieces of paper containing Social Security numbers, bank account information, and other details they can use to commit fraud. Your best protection is to destroy these items, preferably using a paper shredder.

  5. Keep a close watch on your bank account statements and credit card bills. Monitor these statements each month and contact your financial institution immediately if there is a discrepancy in your records, or if you notice something suspicious such as a missing payment or an unauthorized withdrawal. While federal and state laws may limit your losses if you are a victim of fraud or theft, your protections may be stronger if you report the problem quickly and in writing. Also, contact your financial institution immediately if a bank statement or credit card bill does not arrive on time. Such missing mail could be a sign someone has stolen your mail and/or account information.

  6. Avoid identity theft on the Internet. "Hackers" and scam artists continue to find more and more devious ways to steal private information transmitted over the Internet or stored on computers. A few suggestions to protect yourself include:

    Never provide bank account or other personal information in response to an unsolicited email or when visiting a Website that does not explain how your personal information will be protected.

    “Phishing” scams that arrive by email typically ask you to "update" your account information. Never respond to these emails, and do not open any attachments unless you independently confirm the validity of the request by contacting the legitimate organization the way you usually would, not by using the email address, Website, or phone number provided in the email.

    Take precautions with your personal computer (PC). Install a free or low-cost "firewall" to stop intruders from gaining remote access to your PC. Download and frequently update security "patches" offered by your operating system and software vendors to correct weaknesses that a hacker might exploit. Use passwords that will be hard for hackers to guess. For example, use a mix of numbers, symbols, and letters instead of easily guessed words. Also, shut down your PC when you are not using it.

  7. Periodically review your credit record and report fraudulent or suspicious activity. Your credit report, which is prepared by a credit bureau, summarizes your history of paying debts and other bills. Credit reports are used by lenders, employers, and others who have a legal and legitimate need for the information. You have had the right under federal law to obtain a free copy of your credit report in certain circumstances. Under long-standing practices in the credit reporting industry, you have been able to request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your credit file if you suspect that a criminal is attempting to open new accounts in your name.

    Federal law allows you to get one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus that operate nationwide – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – with just a single phone call, letter, or electronic request. After you get your credit report, look for warning signs of actual or potential ID theft. These include mention of a credit card, loan, or lease you never signed up for and requests for a copy of your credit record from someone you do not recognize. This can be a sign that someone is snooping around for personal information.

  8. If you suspect identity theft. You must remember to take action immediately, and act fast!!!!!!!!!! Here are a few suggestions from the Federal Trade Commission.
    • Call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or visit http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft/.
    • File a report with your local police. Get a copy of the police report, so you have proof of the crime.
    • Contact your creditors about any accounts that have been changed or opened fraudulently. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department.
    • Keep records of your conversations and all correspondence.