Tips to Avoiding Identity Theft
Identity theft is becoming more and more common. It is the number 1 complaint filed by consumers with the Federal Trade Commission. There are several things you can do to avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud. Obviously the best thing you can do is subscribe to a service that is constantly looking for breaches of your identity. We don't just say that because we are offering the service. It's true! That's why we at Family Safe Life originally began offering the identity protection service. It is something that EVERYONE needs! Now, having said that, please take a look at the tips below. You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting one of your most valuable assets- your identity!
Be Careful of Email Inquiries
Be very careful about responding to email messages. Identity thieves are very smart and will send email messages out that appear to be from your bank, PayPal, eBay, your credit card company or a number of other organizations. These messages appear to be legitimate asking you to confirm personal information like your username and password to your online account or your Social Security number. The messages are designed to get information that will allow the thieves to access your account. NEVER respond to this type of message. Legitimate businesses will not send out email messages asking for this type of information. For that matter NEVER give out personal information to telemarketers. If you are contacted and you are interested in a product that is being offered, do some research on the company before buying and initiate the call to purchase. The information you want to be especially careful about sharing is your bank account information, credit card information, your Social Security number, your mother's maiden name, or your drivers' license information.
Be cautious when shopping online
Before making a purchase online, or entering any personal information online, make sure that the web page is secure and that the company you are transacting business with is reputable. The way you can tell if a web page is secure is by looking for a small symbol of a padlock somewhere on your browser. The lock should appear in whatever browser you are using. If you are not able to see the padlock symbol, look at the address bar of your browser. Typically you a web address will start with http:// . A secure page will start with https://. Notice the "s" after the http. This let's you know that the web page is secure.
Destroy sensitive information
You know those annoying pre-approved credit card offers that you get in the mail? Those can be a source of information for an identity thief. Thieves will rummage through the garbage looking for them and send them in to get a credit card in your name. The best thing you can do is shred or burn those before you throw them away. This is a good idea for any document you throw away that may contain sensitive information such as old bank statements. Use a crosscut shredder. Crosscut shredders are a bit more expensive but they do a much better job of destroying documents and are worth the money in the long run.
Keep track of your credit card
A common way for thieves to get your credit card information is through dishonest restaurant/night club workers. It is very simple for a waiter to snap a picture of your card with a cell phone camera and that's all they need to start racking up unauthorized charges. If possible, pay at the register so you can watch exactly what is going on. When not possible, do what you can to keep your card within sight at all times and get your card back quickly. The quicker you get your card back, the less chance there is of fraud. Incidentally, another type of credit card fraud that can be tracked back to the food service industry is when a waiter/waitress modifies the tip amount on a receipt. Most people do not notice an extra $1 or so when the amount shows up on a credit card statement. It could pay to hang on to those credit card receipts and match them to the charges on your statement or pay the tip in cash.
Do not use odd-looking ATM/PIN entry terminals
If something seems strange about the ATM or PIN entry terminal, avoid using it. Several incidents have been reported where a thief has attached a skimming device to ATMs or PIN entry terminals. These devices will copy the information in the magnetic strip on the back of your card. This is especially common on machines that are not easily monitored by a merchant.
Limit what you carry in your wallet
Avoid carrying more credit cards in your wallet than you really need. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place at home or in a safe deposit box NOT in your wallet. Make sure you have a copy of the cards you keep in your wallet and your drivers' license. If your wallet is lost or stolen you will need a list of what was in it, with contact phone numbers, so you can call and cancel your credit cards immediately. Only carry your Social Security card or other identity documents when absolutely necessary. Your Social Security number is the key that will open your credit and bank accounts to identity thieves. It is their main target.
Frequently monitor your credit
You are entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the 3 main credit reporting bureaus- TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. While it is a good idea to take advantage of these free reports, a thief can do a lot of damage in a short period of time. If you are only checking your report every few months you may already have a big problem by the time you detect it. The safest thing to do is subscribe to a service that allows you to lock and unlock your credit as well as notifies you of any new accounts open with your name or SSN or other activity involving your credit. Family Safe Life is your best option for this service. You are notified by email 24/7 of any irregularities with your identity.
Remove your name from marketing lists
You can request that your name be removed from the marketing lists of the 3 credit reporting bureaus. This will reduce the number of pre-approved credit card offers you get in the mail. You can also add your name to the name-deletion list of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). The DMA maintains Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service lists that are used by banks and other marketers. You can also add your name to the Do Not Call list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission. You can do this on the FTC's web site at www.ftc.gov. This makes it illegal for "for profit" companies to call you unless they have an existing business relationship with you. This should reduce junk mail and the number of calls you get.
Do not put outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox
Thieves have been known to steal outgoing mail from unsecure mailboxes. They are looking for checks that people are mailing from home to pay bills. These checks can be washed clean with chemicals and rewritten. They can also provide valuable information to identity thieves. Never print your Social Security number on your checks. When sending mail that contains sensitive information, make sure to leave it in a secure mailbox or drop it off at the post office.
Review your statements
Review your credit card and bank statements monthly. If there are charges or withdrawals that you do not recognize find out what they are by calling the number on your statement, the bank or the credit card company. Thieves will try to keep a stolen credit card active by making only a few charges each month in hope that the card owner will not notice them. If you have credit card accounts that you do not use, consider canceling them. You may want to keep your oldest account open as length of credit history does factor into your credit score. Also check your Social Security earnings and benefits statement each year for fraud.