Lets say you’re denied charging a purchase because your account is at the limit, when you know it isn’t. Or your credit is destroyed and may take months or years to straighten out. All because someone has stolen your identity and is creating a mess. Up to 700,000 people will be the victims of stolen credit cards and identity theft this year. Here’s how to protect yourself:
- Guard your Social Security number: This number is the crucial information thieves use to assume your identity, so guard it diligently. Leave your card in a secure place and use sensible precautions when you must give your number. Request a different number for your drivers license and insurance cards.
- Check credit reports annually: Request credit reports every year with the three major credit agencies, Equifax (800-685-1111), Experian (888-397-3742), and Trans Union (800-916-8800). Review the information carefully to ensure its accurate and complete.
- Protect your mail: Stolen mail can lead to a stolen identity, so collect yours when its delivered. Have mail held at the post office or entrust a friend to collect it while you’re away.
- Plug information leaks: Shred all documents with account numbers and all pre-approved credit card solicitations before discarding them. Never print your Social Security and drivers license numbers on your checks.
- Be watchful in public: You never know when someone might be listening or watching, so don’t give out personal or financial identification in public. When you must give out private information, write it down so its seen only by the person you want to receive it.
- Be wary of callers: Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers, and even government agencies to get you to reveal information, so be cautious. Never release personal information or account numbers over the phone, by mail, or Internet unless you’re sure of your contact. If you’re not sure, ask for a name and number where you can call them back. Then verify by calling the organization before you return their call.
- Keep safe online: Use common sense online. Use a secured browser when transmitting personal information. Don’t store financial information on your laptop. Delete personal information with a wipe utility program when disposing of a computer to make the files unrecoverable.
Keeping your good name is worth the effort. By making these tips a habit, you can protect both your money and reputation.