Simple Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW
By Johnny May
While no one can guarantee you will not become a victim of identity
theft, you can greatly minimize your risk of becoming a victim.
Let’s look at some safeguards that you can implement.
1. Be extremely cautious when handling and disclosing the following
information: Social Security number, mother’s maiden name,
date of birth, past addresses, driver’s license number, and,
of course, bank and credit account numbers.
2. Don’t voluntarily give out personal information such
as credit card numbers or Social Security numbers over the phone
unless you initiated the phone call. Ask for a call back number
and match it against the telephone book or directory assistance.
Check with the Better Business Bureau or other agencies to determine
the legitimacy of the business.
3. Invest in a personal shredder. This is your first line of defense.
Shred bank and credit card statements, canceled checks, preapproved
credit card offers, and so forth before disposal. A cross-cut shredder
offers added security because it makes it harder to reconstruct
4. Place garbage out on the morning of pickup rather than the
night before. This gives dumpster divers less opportunity to go
through your garbage.
5. Consider listing only your name and phone number in the telephone
book or get an unlisted and unpublished number. In your personal
listing, avoid the use of professional titles, such as “Dr.” or “Attorney,” or
any other signs announcing you’re affluent.
6. Never disclose personal information over a cell or wireless
7. Be aware of other directories in which you may be listed. In
addition to the telephone directory (see previous item), criminals
have been known to find victims in Who’s Who and other publications.
8. Purchase a residential mailbox with a locking mechanism or
install a mail slot on your door.
9. Have your post office hold your mail while you are on vacation
or absent from your home for an extended period of time.
10. Remove your mail from the mailbox as soon as it is delivered,
11. Consider starting a neighborhood watch program to help keep
an eye on mailboxes and report suspected mail thieves.
12. Order checks with extra security features that discourage
13. Don’t leave outgoing checks or paid bills in your residential
mailbox. Take your mail to the post office or drop it in a U.S.
Postal Service mailbox. Also, consider paying bills electronically;
many financial institutions now offer this option.
14. Opt out of preapproved credit card offers by calling (888)
5OPTOUT, or (888) 567-8688. Your request covers all three major
credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax).
15. When you order new checks, do not have them sent to your residence.
Pick them up at the bank instead. Or, have them delivered to you
by registered mail, so you have to sign for them personally.
16. Call your credit card company if your card has expired and
you have not yet received a replacement.
17. Minimize the amount of information you carry in your wallet
or purse. Limit the number of credit cards you carry with you and
don’t carry your Social Security card.
18. To avoid pickpockets, men should carry wallets in a front
pocket . Another idea is to place a rubber band around the wallet
so it will rub against the cloth, providing an alert that a crime
is in progress. You can also place your wallet in your pocket sideways,
making it more difficult to get the wallet out of your pocket.
19. Be careful in crowded areas. Pickpockets often deliberately
bump or jostle an unsuspecting victim in a crowd as a distraction
20. Don’t pat your pocket to see if your wallet is still
there. This can alert a pickpocket to the location of your wallet.
21. For women, a purse with a zippered compartment and a flap
over the outside is the most secure. Carry the purse with the flap
against your body. Avoid drawstring purses.
22. Avoid hanging your purse on the back of a chair in a public
place. Place it in your lap.
23. Scrutinize monthly billing statements. Open bills promptly
and check your accounts monthly. Look for charges you don’t
recognize and report them immediately. Report late statements.
Save receipts to compare with your billing statements.
24. Contact credit card companies and request that they lower
the credit limits on your credit cards to minimize the damage an
identity thief can do.
25. Ask your credit card issuers to stop sending unsolicited convenience
checks. Identity thieves know the account holder won’t see
the charges for at least thirty days.
26. When purchasing gas, use a gasoline card instead of a credit
card. Gas station attendants and other employees have access to
customers names and account numbers even if the card is swiped
at the pump. A gasoline card is a lot less attractive to identity
27. Keep your eyes on your credit card during all transactions
(e.g., in restaurants), and get it back as soon as possible.
28. Keep a record of all your credit card account numbers, expiration
dates, and the telephone number and address of each creditor. Store
it in a secure place.
29. Be cautious of “shoulder surfers.” This crime
most often occurs with calling cards. Always shield your calling
card number by placing your hand over the telephone keypad, or
look for a phone with a card swipe.
30. Order a copy of your credit report at least one or two times
per year from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian,
TransUnion, and Equifax). Look for address changes and fraudulent
accounts. Check for accuracy. Do this on your birthday to help
you remember to do it at least once per year.
31. Consider trying a credit report rotation. Order a copy of
your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion,
Experian, Equifax) every four months. Over the course of a year,
you will have seen all three of your credit reports.
32. If you think someone has established credit using your child’s
name, order a copy of their credit report. It is easy to overlook
the possibility of fraud involving your child’s Social Security
33. Ask your creditors to include a security password on your
accounts. Stay away from using a mother’s maiden name or
your Social Security number. While you won’t make a lot of
points with your creditors, you will provide yourself with an added
blanket of security.
34. Cancel credit cards that you seldom use. The more open accounts
you have, the more vulnerable you are.
35. Limit the amount of information you place on your Internet
home page and on websites detailing family genealogy.
36. Limit the personal information on your checks. Don’t
preprint your Social Security number, telephone number, or driver’s
license number on your checks. Disclose it only when absolutely
required. If a merchant asks you for your telephone number or driver’s
license number, you may decide to add it at that time. A retailer
should have no need for your Social Security number.
37. Ask your employer and others not to use your Social Security
number as an identifier; use an alternative number if possible.
38. Do not allow sales clerks to copy your credit card numbers
onto checks for additional information. It’s against the
law in some states, and major credit card companies prohibit merchants
from charging a customer’s credit card account to cover a
39. Never write down personal identifications numbers (PINs) or
passwords; memorize them. Do not use your Social Security number
or any easy-to-guess words or number sequences, such as birth dates.
40. When establishing a password, use a combination of numbers,
letters, and symbols. Avoid using the same password for other accounts
41. When ordering online, it is generally preferable to use a
credit card (with a low limit) instead of a debit card, because
of the immediacy with which a debit card gives a thief access to
the cash in your bank account. However, federal law does protect
users of both credit and debit cards.
42. If you’re interested in doing business online with a
company you are not familiar with, ask the company for its physical
address and phone number. Use that information to check the business’s
complaint record with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer
43. Install adequate firewall protection to prevent hackers from
accessing personal information stored on your computer.
44. Never give your bank account numbers or Social Security number
to online merchants.
45. Before purchasing online, find out if the site has a secure
server. Secure pages begin with https instead of http. A picture
of a lock in the locked position should appear on the browser window.
46. If you get an e-mail that warns you, with little or no notice,
that an account of yours will be shut down unless you reconfirm
your billing information, do not reply or click on the link in
the e-mail. Instead, contact the company cited in the e-mail by
telephone number or by a website you know to be genuine.
47. You can purchase credit monitoring services that alert you
when there are changes in your credit report. Keep in mind, however,
that these services usually only cover one of the three major credit
48. Notify your credit card companies and financial institutions
in advance of any change of address or phone number.
49. Never put your credit card number — or any financial
account number — on a postcard or on the outside of an envelope.
50. Quiz organizations, such as banks, brokerages, or employers,
about what they do with your private information.
Excerpted from Johnny May’s Guide to Preventing
Identity Theft by Johnny May. Copyright © 2004 by
Johnny May. All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with
Johnny May. $14.95. Available in local bookstores or click