Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft

In order to protect yourself you man need to 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.

It is always a good idea to 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 (SSN)

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 by using complicated passwords; frequently update antivirus software and spyware. Surf the Web cautiously, shop only at trustworthy websites 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 at 888-382-1222 or visit the National Do Not Call website, you also can reduce credit card solicitations for 5 years by contacting an opt-out service run by the three major credit bureaus: 888-5-OPT OUT or online. You'll need to provide your SSN as an identifier.

 Guard your personal information

Ask questions whenever anyone asks you for personal data, how will the information be used, why must I provide this data? Ask anyone who does require your SSN, for instance, cell phone providers, what their privacy policy is and whether you can arrange for the organization not to share your information with anyone else.

Monitor your credit report

Each year, obtain and thoroughly review your credit report from the three major credit bureaus; Equifax (800-685-1111), Experian (883-397-3742) and TransUnion 800-680-4213 or at Annual Credit to look for suspicious activity. If you spot something, alert your card company or the creditor immediately.

Review your bank & 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.

Keep track of your billing dates/cycles and follow up with creditors if you don't receive bills/statements on time. Use random letters and numbers for passwords; don't use your mother's maiden name, your birth date, your graduation date, your social security number or any other familiar letters or numbers that can be associated with you as passwords.

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, rummaging through trash, posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to the information, stealing credit and debit card numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device ("skimming"), stealing wallets and purses containing identification and credit or bank cards, stealing mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information or completing a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.

 If your identity is stolen

Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them that you're an identity theft victim. Request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file, along with a victim's statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.

1. Equifax To report fraud: 800-525-6285

P.O. Box 740241

Atlanta, GA, 30374

2. Experian To report fraud: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)

P.O. Box 9532

Allen, TX 75013

3. TransUnion To report fraud: 800-680-7289

Fraud Victim Assistance Division

P.O. Box 6790

Fullerton, CA 92634

Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Speak with someone in the security / fraud department of each creditor, and follow up with a letter. If your SSN has been used illegally, contact the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271. File a report with Public Safety or the Police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit-card company, or others need proof of the crime.

Keep records of everything involved in your efforts to clear up fraud, including copies of written correspondence and records of telephone calls.