6 tips to protect against ID theft

According to the Federal Trade Commission more than 9 million people in the U.S. had their identities stolen last year.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identification information such as your name, Social Security number, address, credit card number or other information, without your permission and commits fraud or other crimes with that information, such as renting an apartment or signing up for credit cards.

The crimes committed are endless and the damage can take years to reverse. Obviously, it will cost you a lot of money in the process.

And the biggest problem is you may not know your identity has been compromized until it’s too late.

Here are my tips on how to prevent identity theft and what to do if you think you’ve been targeted.

Ask for credit card verification

Many people often ask me if they should sign the back of their credit card, or write “SEE ID”. I say —do both! By signing the back of your credit card, you are validating the card and agreeing with the banks’ terms, and by putting “SEE ID”, you are telling the clerks to check the name and signature on the card against a drivers license.

Be careful with checks

Your personal checks carry a lot of information on them. Not only do they have your bank account number, but they also have your home address. Make sure you only give a check to institutions and people you trust. Otherwise use cash.

  • When you are writing a check to pay your credit card bill, DO NOT put the complete account number anywhere on the check. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the processing channels, won’t have access to it.
  • Be careful what personal information you put on your check. Use your work phone number instead of a home phone. Use a P.O. Box instead of your home address or your work address. Never have your Social Security number printed on your checks (or anywhere else.) Do not have your driver’s license number printed on there either: you can always write this information down later if needed.

Know what’s in your wallet

If your wallet gets stolen, you should know everything that’s in it to act quickly and stop the thieves from taking all your money.

  • Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of everything; your license, all your credit cards… Do not carry your social security card in your wallet. You should memorize it!
  • In the event of ID theft, you will have to cancel your credit cards immediately. This is where the photocopies come in handy: so keep them in a safe place. They have all the numbers to call and the account numbers you will need right on them.
  • File a police report immediately in the city where the wallet was taken. In most cases the police department will not be able to search for or locate your wallet. But this proves to credit providers that you were diligent and is a first step toward an investigation that will hopefully get you your money back.
  • Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name. Also call the Social Security fraud line number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

    Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

    Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742

    Trans Union: 1-800-680 7289

    Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

Check your credit report

Order a copy of your credit report a few times a year and make sure it’s accurate and includes only those activities you’ve authorized. It is very difficult to know when your ID has been stolen and even if you do find out, it’s tricky to know how many accounts they’ve opened or what crimes they’ve committed that are harming you. Your credit report should show you most of this activity. It’s best to keep tabs on your credit report and resolve issues immediately. So that when you need that credit to buy a home or a get a credit card, you know what is on the report and there are no surprises.

Shred, shred, shred!

Don’t not throw out documents with your personal information on it without shredding them first. Shredding documents with any identifying information helps prevent “dumpster diving”. Thieves literally go through people’s trash looking for documents with personal information on it.

  • Stop having paper bills sent to your home. Have them e-mailed to you and set up electronic payments. This way you are not receiving bills with your account numbers on them and you don’t have to put personal checks in the mail.
  • Monitor your accounts on-line…. electronic monitoring will increase your ability to catch fraudulent charges sooner and will decrease the amount of mail you receive, as well as the threat of mail theft.

Destroy hotel key cards

This is one of my favorite tips, because most people do not realize that their personal information is stored on the key cards given to them at hotels. Those cards with the magnetic strip have all of your personal information on them that you gave at the front desk of your hotel. Cut them in half and destroy them before you leave. Toss them out, or give them back to the hotel.

What to do immediately if theft strikes:

File a police report

This will provide you with legal document proving where and when the incident took place. This also shows your bank and credit agencies that you took action right away.

Call the credit bureaus

Inform them of the situation. They are very good at notifying you if anyone tries to open a line of credit with your name and/or Social Security Number once they find out your information was stolen.

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742

Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289

Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

Call your bank and credit card agencies

This is where all the photo copies of what was in your wallet comes in handy. Call each company and let them know that you no longer have their card, and/or that you believe it is being used by someone else.

Bonus tip: Notify your HR department if any of your work information could be compromised.

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