Identity Theft – 10 Steps for Protecting Your Personal Information

The Federal Citizen Information Center states that over 88 million personal data records for US citizens have been exposed in security breaches since February 2005. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country.

The FCIC advises the following 10 steps to protect your personal information from identity theft:

• Check your credit reports regularly:

Under federal law, everyone can obtain a free annual copy of their credit report (this doesn’t include your credit score) from each of the three credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to request your reports. Become familiar with all the information in them so you can recognize any fraudulent accounts or transactions. Also be sure to request your medical information file, free once annually from MIB, Inc.

• Put a security freeze on your credit report:

See if your state gives you this important weapon to prevent identity theft. A security freeze lets you stop thieves from getting credit in your name by locking or freezing access to the consumer credit report and credit score. Without this information, a business will not issue new credit to a thief. When the consumer wants to get new credit, he or she uses a PIN to unlock access to the credit file.

• Opt out of information sharing:

You have the right to opt-out when companies want to share your personal information. You might receive privacy notices in the mail from many types of companies with which you do business. Read these notices carefully and make sure you understand how your information gets used. You always have the right to tell them to stop sharing your information. You can also opt-out of receiving unsolicited emails and telemarketing phone calls, and get your name removed from mailing lists. Stop receiving pre-approved credit offers by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). Note: You will be asked to provide your Social Security number; the consumer reporting companies need it to match you with your file.

• Use unique or unpredictable passwords:

Place strong passwords on all of your accounts including credit card, bank and phone accounts, and all online accounts where you access sensitive information. Avoid using easily available information such as your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security Number (SSN) or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

• Secure personal information in your home:

Especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.

• Treat your mail and trash carefully:

Deposit your outgoing mail in a post office collection box rather than in an unsecured mailbox and promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you won’t be home to pick up your mail for an extended period of time request a vacation hold. When ordering new checks, pick them up from the bank instead of having them mailed to your home mailbox. Many thieves search through trash to find information people toss out; be sure to tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you’re discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.

• When you go out:

Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need. Leave your Social Security number card at home in a secure place.

• Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work:

Do the same with copies of administrative forms that contain your sensitive personal information. Use a locked filing cabinet if possible.

• Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary:

Ask to use other types of identifiers. For example, NEVER use your Social Security number as your drivers license number, student identification number, health insurance policy number, etc.

• Be cautious when responding to promotions:

Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers to trick you into giving them your personal information—this is especially true for email and telephone offers. NEVER give personal information unless you initiated the contact with the company.