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Identity theft is the number one crime these days. My bank sent me new credit cards this month because a merchant account had been accessed by someone – not MY account, but the bank! I had to spend a lot of valuable time changing the card number on accounts that automatically debit my card – and I still missed one. If someone hijacks your personal account the cost in lost money, time and frustration is enormous.
The ten steps here can’t guarantee your account will be safe, but they can save you headaches, ulcers and money. At the end, I’ll also include some websites where you can get more information and protect your identity.
1. Be trash smart. Shred your credit card statements and the “checks” they send you, as well as any credit card offers, other junk mail and any documents that have personal financial information. No shredder? Tear them into little pieces or let the dog eat them (I suppose PETA will get on me for that one).
2. Take your receipts. Make sure you take any credit or debit receipts from restaurants, gas stations, ATMs, etc. with you. Smart thieves can use any small bit of information.
3. Social Security watch. You know you shouldn’t carry your Social Security card on you in case it gets lost or stolen. But how about your health insurance card? Some of them have your Social Security number on them. Check what you’re carrying around with you!
4. Credit card watch. Try not to let anyone walk away with your card. Sometimes, as with restaurants, that may not be possible. Be sure to watch your credit statements if you have to let the card out of your possession.
5. Mail box watch. Don’t leave your mail in the box for long periods. Those credit card offers are valuable to identity thieves. You shouldn’t mail bills from your home mail box either. Checks can be altered and, of course, the thieves get your account information. Drop the mail at the post office or a USPS mail box.
6. Credit card statement watch. Look at the charges to be sure they are legitimate. Most include a phone number in case you need to call them.
7. Old credit. If you have cards you haven’t used in a long time you should check to see if there has been any activity on them – and cancel them. Also be sure that any loans that are paid off are actually closed.
8. Opt out. Put yourself on the national Do Not Call registry (1-888-382-1222) or your state registry. You can also opt out of junk mail and credit card solicitations.
9. Phone scams and phishing. Don’t ever give personal information to someone who calls you or sends you email. The email can look official and the caller sound convincing, but no bank or credit card company will call or email you asking for information. Ask for their name and position, what company they are with and why they are calling. Then call the company on a phone number you already have to confirm the information.
10. Review your credit reports. All of them. This can be a chore, but well worth it. It’s a lot more than a chore if someone steals your identity. There is now a free service at http://www.Annualcreditreport.com (877-322-8228) where you can get your information annually. The big three are:
Trans Union: http://www.transunion.com/
Let your credit card company and your bank know if you see anything suspicious. You can put alerts on your accounts so that you will get a call if someone tries to open new accounts or use your account numbers. Finally, you can enroll with credit protection companies such as Lifelock at http://www.LifeLock.com.
You can find more in-depth information on identity theft at the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ and the Department of Justice at http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html.