3 smart ways to protect yourself
One of the fastest growing white-collar crimes in America is identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Chances are, if you haven’t been a victim of identity theft, someone you know has.
- Shred documents with your personal information on it. A common way for identity thieves to obtain information is through dumpster diving.
- Guard your Social Security number. Be sure not to carry it on you, and don’t write it on your checks.
- Refrain from giving out personal information. Don’t disclose information such as your mother’s maiden name (a common “security question” for credit cards) or a Social Security number either online, on the telephone or in person, which can give an identity thief a window to your money.
- Exercise caution when surfing online. Do business with companies you know and don’t click on pop-up menus that ask for your personal information. The FTC encourages individuals to “use firewalls, anti-spyware and antivirus software to protect your home computer; keep them up to date.”
- Create complex passwords. Try not to use obvious combinations, such as your street address, birthday or mother’s maiden name.
- Delays in receiving bills
- Credit card statements you don’t recognize
- Credit denials
- Unrecognizable credit or debit card purchases
- Request a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports. The alert will allow creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts in your name or making changes to any of your accounts. The credit bureaus’ toll-free numbers for placing a fraud alert are as follows:
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- Notify the fraud departments of companies where your accounts have been compromised. Be sure to write them a letter to follow up and to provide them any copies of supporting documents.
- Complete an affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
- Ask the creditor to verify that the problem has been dealt with.
- Keep copies of everything.
- File a police report.
- Notify the Federal Trade Commission:
Online: ftc.gov/idtheftBy phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580