According to the FBI Identity Theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States with more than 10 million victims each year. There are some things you can do to help protect yourself. Request copies of your credit report from each of the national credit bureaus and review them for any questionable entries. It is recommended that you request your credit report from the three credit bureaus in an alternating pattern through the year. Request your credit report from one of the credit bureaus every three months. This way you are keeping a check on your credit reports throughout the year and not just once a year.
- Do not carry your extra credit cards, Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport in your wallet or purse except when necessary. This practice minimizes the amount of information a thief can steal. Photocopy everything in your wallet so if it is stolen you know exactly who to call.
- Do not click on links in any emails you receive from financial institutions - even if you're 100% sure they're legitimate. Instead, go to your browser and type in the domain name of the institution (e.g. www.wellsfargo.com or www.paypal.com) and then login to your account. Some emails you receive about your financial accounts are actually fake and are called "phishing" emails.
- Make sure your computer is set to automatically download the latest patches and fixes. Any computer operating systems will have security holes. You will want to install a new fix once they are discovered and patched. Both Microsoft Windows and Mac have an easy method for doing this.
- Install virus and spyware detection software and keep them updated.
- Install a lockable mailbox at your residence to reduce mail theft.
- Take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container.
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended at work or in church, restaurants, health fitness clubs, parties, or shopping carts. Never leave your purse or wallet in open view in your car, even when your car is locked.
- Destroy all checks immediately after you close a checking account. Destroy or keep in a secure place any courtesy checks that your bank or credit card company sends to you.
- Do not have your bank send your new checks to your home address. Tell the bank that you prefer to pick them up.
- Reconcile your check and credit card statements in a timely fashion, and challenge any purchases you did not make.
- Limit the number of credit cards you have, and cancel any inactive accounts.
- Never give any credit card, bank, or Social Security information to anyone by telephone, even if you made the call, unless you can positively verify that the call is legitimate.
- Minimize exposure of your Social Security and credit card numbers. If the numbers are requested for check-cashing purposes, ask if the business has alternative options such as a check-cashing card.
- Do not allow your financial institution to print your Social Security number on your personal checks.
- Safeguard your credit, debit, and ATM card receipts. Shred them before discarding.
- Scrutinize your utility and subscription bills to make sure the charges are yours.
- Memorize your passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) so you do not have to write them down. Be aware of your surroundings to make sure no one is watching you input your PIN.
- Keep a list of all your credit accounts and bank accounts in a secure place so you can quickly call the issuers to inform them about missing or stolen cards. Include account numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers of customer service and fraud departments.
- Do not toss pre-approved credit offers in your trash or recycling bin without first shredding them. Dumpster divers use these offers to order credit cards in your name and mail them to their address. Always do the same with other sensitive information like credit card receipts, phone bills, and such.
- If you don't receive your billing statement, notify the company immediately.
Again, none of these tips are guaranteed to prevent identity theft. You just want to make it more difficult for someone to steal your identity.
Take advantage of your right to one FREE copy per year of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies by calling 1-877-322-8228 or ordering online at www.annualcreditreport.com. Request a report from one of the reporting companies every four months and carefully review this report for suspicious activity.