Protecting your identity begins by reducing the number of places where your personal information can be found. Follow these tips to reduce your risk:
- Consider placing a free security freeze on your credit to block others, including identity thieves, from opening a new account or obtaining credit in your name.
- You can opt-out of pre-screened credit offers for free online at http://www.optoutprescreen.com/.
- Signing up for the state’s Do Not Call list also protects you from pre-screened credit offers and other types of telemarketing fraud.
- You can opt out of major online tracking companies for free online at Network Advertising Initiative.
- You may remove yourself from several mailing lists for up to five years by contacting the Direct Marketing Association, although a processing fee may apply for this service.
- If your bank provides your account information to third parties, you may ask to opt-out of this practice or request they notify you in advance.
- If you receive an offer for a pre-approved credit card or loan but aren't interested, shred the application form before throwing it away.
- If you are not interested in receiving convenience checks by your credit card companies, you can request to be removed from the mailing list.
Reducing the number of credit cards you have and only carrying the cards that you intend to use may help reduce your risk of becoming an ID theft victim. However, cutting up a card does NOT cancel the account. You must contact the credit card company. Check your credit report to review open accounts in your name.
There are also important ways you can protect yourself from ID thieves online such as using passwords and installing an electronic firewall to keep Internet hackers from accessing your computer. Using anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer to check for malicious programs you may have inadvertently downloaded, and keeping software up to date along with your Web browser, can also help minimize your risk. You can also check with your Internet service provider about any free virus, spyware, mal-ware prevention, and firewall software they provide.
Using a secure connection, also known as an encrypted connection, when doing commerce online may help reduce your risk of identity theft. A secure connection will have an "s" after the "http" Web address and an icon of a "closed lock" or "key" at the bottom of the screen. Beware of the use of public computers for private information transmission. Applying or checking credit using someone else's computer leaves a history of your information.
You can also reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft by taking the following precautions:
- Minimize the amount of personal financial information you carry. Do not carry your Social Security card with you unless you need it. This includes government issued cards with that number on them. Only provide your SSN when absolutely necessary.
- Memorize passwords and PIN numbers. Do not carry them.
- Keep financial information in a secure place in your home or bank safe deposit box.
- Shred documents before throwing them away. Purchase a cross-cut shredder to better protect your information.
- Do not give sensitive information to unsolicited callers. Legitimate businesses will not make unsolicited calls asking for your Social Security or bank account numbers. Caller ID information can be spoofed, so do not rely on the name and number that is on your box. If in doubt, hang up and dial your vendors directly. Many methods of fraud are tied to bogus callers seeking information collection opportunities.
- Shield your hand when entering your PIN at a bank ATM, store checkouts, or when making long distance calls with a calling card. This prevents security cameras, cell phone cameras or people near you from acquiring your pin. Shred ATM slips.
- Pick up new checks or credit cards at your bank rather than having them delivered to your home. Do not print your driver's license or Social Security number on your checks.
- If your bank or credit card statement does not arrive on time, call to make sure they sent it to the proper address. Also contact the Post Office to see if a change of address has been filed in your name. A thief may steal or divert your statements to hide the theft and use these as proof of their “new” identity.
- When traveling, you are even more vulnerable to ID thieves. Keep all personal belongings locked in hotels safes/safe deposit boxes or with you. This includes prescription bottles that have personal information on them.