Today got a letter and a brochure from the United States Postal Service, which provide with tips and steps consumers can take to deter, defect and defend against identity theft. I read through the brochure and found the information very useful. I decided to “record” almost everything in the brochure in case I lose it (or don’t know where to find it when I need it). So here we go the tips and advice that help to avoid identity theft:
DETER – Deter identity thieves by safeguarding information
1. Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them;
2. Protect your SS#. Don’t carry your social security card in wallet or write SS# on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier;
3. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you know who you are dealing with;
4. Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, antispyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer, keep the update-to -date;
5. Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your SS#;
6. Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommate, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
DETECT – Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements
1. Be alert to signs that require immediate attention:
a. Bills that don’t arrive as expected;
b. Unexpected credit cards or account statement;
c. Denials of credit for no apparent reason;
d. Calls or letters about purchases you didn’t make;
2. Inspect your credit report and review financial statement regularly, looking for charges you didn’t make.
DEFEND – Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it
1. Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three national wide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient. Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain.
2. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud department of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing, with copies of support documents. Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. Keep copies of documents and records of your conversation about the theft.
3. File a police report to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime;
4. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
By Phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT
Common Ways ID Theft Happens
1. Dumpster Diving: They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it;
2. Skimming: They steal credit/debt card numbers by using a special storage device when process your card;
3. Phishing: They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information;
4. Changing your address: They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a “change of address” form;
5. “Old-Fashioned” Stealing. They steal wallets and purses, mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers, or bribe employees who have access.
In the letter it says: “Your identity is valuable. If someone steals it to commit fraudulent acts, it can affect every aspect of your life – your credit standing, your ability to buy a car or a house, even get a job or medical care. And it can take years to repair to damage. Most important, it can happen to any of us, in ways we never imagined.”
This is very true. I also remembered reading somewhere (I think it’s RD) about someone even can steal your “medical identity” – use your name and SS# (and other personal information) when treating their illness. therefore a huge medial bill could show up on your door for some treatment that was not on you! Can you imagine that?!
For more detailed information on fighting back against identity theft, you can visit FTC’s webste at: ftc.gov/idtheft.