Protecting Your Identity

When it comes to identity theft , you can't completely control whether or not you will become a victim, but you can make it much harder for a thief to steal your personal information. These 10 simple tips may help you minimize your risk.

  1. Protect your PINs. Try to memorize your PIN number, but if you have to write it down don't write it on your debit card or leave it in your wallet or purse. When entering a PIN number at an ATM, at a store or on a computer, make sure nobody is peering over your shoulder to make a note of the keys you’re pressing.
  2. Protect your Social Security Number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet unless you need it. Knowing your full name, address and full Social Security Number, or even the last 4 digits, can let a thief assume your identity. Never use your Social Security Number as any part of a username or password that you establish, and never divulge it to telephone solicitors or in response to e-mails.
  3. Require photo ID verification. Rather than signing the backs of your credit or debit cards, you can write “See Photo ID.” When store clerks look at the signature block on the credit card to verify the signature, you get added security by directing them to also make sure you match the picture on the photo ID.
  4. Shred everything. One of the ways that would-be identity thieves acquire information is through “dumpster-diving” (A.K.A.. trash-picking). Buy a cross-cut shredder and shred all papers such as bills and credit card statements, old credit card or ATM receipts, medical statements and solicitations for credit cards and mortgages that contain your personal information.
  5. Destroy digital data. When you dispose of a computer system, or a recordable CD or DVD, take extra steps to ensure the data is completely removed. Just deleting the data or reformatting the hard drive is not enough. Use software to make sure that data on hard drives is completely destroyed. For CDs or DVDs you should physically destroy it by breaking or shattering it before disposing of it. Consider purchasing a shredder designed specifically to shred CDs and DVDs.
  6. Carefully review your financial statements. Check your credit card and bank statements each month for any suspicious activity. Plus, if you are diligent about checking your bank and credit statements each month, you will be aware if one of them doesn’t arrive and that can alert you that perhaps someone stole it from your mailbox.
  7. Don't leave bill payments in your mailbox. A thief who raids your mailbox would be able to acquire your name, address, account number, bank routing and bank account numbers, as well as a copy of your signature. Instead, drop your bills at the post office or a official U.S. Postal Service drop box, or pay your bills online.
  8. Limit the information on your personal checks. It may be convenient to have your drivers license number or social security number on your checks to save time, but you should never include it on your checks since it reveals too much information. Consider putting just your first initial in the name space of your check, such as “J. Smith” rather than writing out “John Smith” so that if someone gets your checks they would not know your full name.
  9. Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number or your phone number.
  10. Review your credit report periodically. You should review your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus at least annually to make sure they're accurate and also make sure that there aren’t any accounts on there that you aren’t aware of or any other suspicious entries or activity. You can get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months.

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