Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Identity thieves can empty your bank account, max out your credit cards, open new accounts in your name, and purchase furniture, cars, and even homes on the basis of your credit history. You may never be able to completely prevent your identity from being stolen, but here are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Check yourself out
Check to make sure that all the information contained in your credit report is correct, and be on the lookout for any fraudulent activity. You may get your credit report for free once a year. Contact the Annual Credit Report Request Service online at www.annualcreditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228. If you need to correct any information or dispute any entries, contact the three national credit reporting agencies:
Equifax: (800) 685-1111
Experian: (888) 397-3742
TransUnion: (800) 916-8800
Secure your number
Your most important personal identifier is your Social Security number (SSN). Never carry your Social Security card with you unless you’ll need it. Don’t have your SSN preprinted on your checks, and don’t let merchants write it on your checks. Don’t give it out over the phone unless you initiate the call to an organization you trust. Ask the three major credit reporting agencies to truncate it on your credit reports. Try to avoid listing it on employment applications; offer instead to provide it during a job interview.
Don’t leave home with it
Carry only the cards and/or checks you’ll need for any one trip. And keep a written record of all your account numbers, credit card expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments in a secure place--at home.
Keep a low profile
To stop telephone calls from national telemarketers, list your telephone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry by calling (888) 382-1222 or registering online at www.donotcall.gov. To remove your name from most national mailing and e-mailing lists, as well as most telemarketing lists, write the Direct Marketing Association at 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700, or register online at www.dmachoice.org. To remove your name from marketing lists prepared by the three national consumer reporting agencies, call (888) 567-8688 or register online at www.optoutprescreen.com
Take a byte out of crime
Install a firewall to prevent hackers from obtaining information from your hard drive or hijacking your computer to use it for committing other crimes. Moreover, install virus protection software and update it on a regular basis. Try to avoid storing personal and financial information on a laptop. If you must store such information on your laptop, protect these files with a strong password. Opening e-mails from people you don’t know, especially if you download attached files or click on hyperlinks within the message, can expose you to viruses and spyware. If you wish to visit a business’s website type the URL address directly into the browser. If you provide personal or financial information about yourself over the Internet, do so only at secure websites; to determine if a site is secure, look for a URL that begins with “https” (instead of “http”) or a lock icon on the browser’s status bar.