In today’s Tech Briefing, we spoke about steps you can take to help avoid becoming victim to Identity Theft.
While there’s no way to absolutely prevent thieves from stealing your identity, here are some tips you can do to protect yourself:
(tips taken from the Stanford University Department of Public Safety — http://www.stanford.edu/group/SUDPS/safety-report/personal-safety.shtml)
- Destroy private records and statements. Destroy credit card statements, solicitations and other documents that contain any private information. Shred this paperwork using a “cross-cut” shredder so thieves can’t find your data when they rummage through your garbage. Also, don’t leave a paper trail – never leave ATM, credit card or gas station receipts behind.
- Secure your mail. Empty your mailbox quickly, lock it or get a P.O. box so criminals don’t have a chance to steal credit card offers. Never mail outgoing bill payments and checks from an unsecured mailbox, especially at home. They can be stolen from your mailbox and the payee’s name erased with solvents. Mail them from the post office or another secure location.
- Safeguard your Social Security number. Never carry your card with you, or any other card that may have your number, like a health insurance card or school issued ID. Don’t put your number on your checks; your SSN is the primary target for identity thieves because it gives them access to your credit report and bank accounts. There are very few entities that can actually demand your SSN – the Department of Motor Vehicles, for example. Also, SSNs are required for transactions involving taxes, so that means banks, brokerages, employers, and the like also have a legitimate need for your SSN.
- Safeguard your computer. Protect your computer from viruses and spies. Use complicated passwords; frequently update antivirus software and spyware. Surf the Web cautiously. Shop only at trustworthy web sites and be wary of obscure sites or any site you’ve never used before.
- Know who you’re dealing with. Whenever you are contacted, either by phone or email, by individuals identifying themselves as banks, credit card or e-commerce companies and asked for private identity or financial information, do not respond. Legitimate companies do not contact you and ask you to provide personal data such as PINs, user names and passwords or bank account information over the phone or Internet. If you think the request is legitimate, contact the company yourself by calling customer service using the number on your account statement or in the telephone book and confirm what you were told before revealing any of your personal data.
- Take your name off marketers’ hit lists. In addition to the national Do Not Call Registry (1-888-382-1222 or https://www.donotcall.gov), you also can reduce credit card solicitations for five years by contacting an opt-out service run by the three major credit bureaus: (888) 5-OPT OUT or https://www.optoutprescreen.com. You’ll need to provide your Social Security number as an identifier.
- Monitor your credit report. Each year, obtain and thoroughly review your credit report from the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (now available annually for free by calling 877-322-8228 or at https://www.annualcreditreport.com) to look for suspicious activity. If you spot something, alert your card company or the creditor immediately.
- Review your bank and credit card statements carefully. Look for unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Make sure you recognize the merchants, locations and purchases listed before paying the bill. If you don’t need or use department-store or bank-issued credit cards, consider closing the accounts.
- Be aware of how ID thieves can get your information. They get information:
- From businesses or other institutions by stealing records, bribing employees with access to records, hacking into computers, or rummaging through trash.
- By posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to the information.
- By stealing credit and debit card numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device in a practice known as “skimming.”
- By stealing wallets and purses containing identification and credit or bank cards.
- By stealing mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
- By completing a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.