10 Tips on Preventing Identity Theft

Learn how you can lower your chances to have your identity stolen.

Identity theft is not something you want to have happen to you. Getting out from under the problems caused by identity theft can take months and, sometimes, years. Here are 10 tips that will go a long way to stopping you from becoming an identity theft victim.

  1. Put all discarded mail and forms with your personal information on it through a shredder. Use a crosscut shredder if possible. Whatever is in your mailbox or trash can be stolen and used as the basis for opening an account in your name.
  2. Check your credit record annually with each of the three major credit agencies: » Equifax (800 865 1111)
    » Experian (888 397 3742)
    » Trans-Union (800 888 4213)
    You may discover transactions on your reports that you had nothing to do with. To be more proactive, you can sign up with an online service that will email you any time any entry is made on your credit report. This way you will not discover that someone has taken out a mortgage in your name ten months after it has occurred.
  3. Never respond to an online query by giving your personal information. There are many attempts now to get this information by saying, for example, that you are preapproved for a mortgage application. This new wave of scamming is called “phishing”. If you respond to it or click a link in it, you will be the phish caught on the hook. Delete such queries. There is no need to give anyone online any personal information unless you have initiated the transaction.
  4. If you use online banking and credit card services, make it a habit to check that your entries and your balances are what they should be.
  5. Your Social Security number (SSN) is yours. Keep it private for as long as you can. Do not give it out unless you absolutely must. For example, a prospective employer needn’t know the number until after you’ve been hired. Do not carry your Social Security card or number with you.
  6. Tell the three major credit reporting agencies to block promotional disclosure of information about you. This reduces the number of pre-approved credit cards that will come to you. The credit reporting opt-out call number is (888) 567-8688.
  7. Do not use checks with your driver’s license number, social security number, or telephone number on them.
  8. If you are not getting mail that you routinely get, like monthly bills or bank statements, check with your post office to see if a change of address form has been filed in your name.
  9. Use a password on your credit card, bank, utility and phone accounts if possible. Using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, your SSN’s last four digits, your phone number or consecutive digits are too easy for others to use.
  10. Make sure your computer is as protected as you can make it. Update virus protection software. You wouldn’t invite someone into your home you don’t know; be as leery of links. Keep a firewall on at all times. Before you get rid of a computer, use software that clears your computer of all the information on it.