Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Check your credit reports yearly

The government has entitled you to three free credit reports per year: one from Experian, one from Equifax, and one from TransUnion. The best place to obtain these credit reports is through www.annualcreditreport.com. It is important that you pull all three reports, as some information may only appear on one of the three reports. Once you have your reports, check each and every account and verify that the account belongs to you. Also review the inquiries section. It will reveal if a thief posed as a landlord or employer to gain access to your report.

Opt out of credit report pre-screening

Call 1-888-5OPT-OUT or go to www.optoutprescreen.com. This will greatly reduce the number of pre-approved credit card offers you find in your mailbox. Thieves like to steal this mail and activate pre-approved credit offers under new addresses.

Shred all documents with sensitive information

Don't have a shredder? Save your important documents in a secure location and wait for community shredding events. These events happen fairly often through the spring, summer, and fall. The Consumer Protection Board often lists CPB-sponsored or affiliated events scheduled in your neighborhood.

Check your bank and credit card statements carefully

If your card number has been sold and is being used by someone else, your statements will show it. Be sure to check for small charges - between three and seven cents. Skimmer thieves will charge your card with these small charges, called "pings", to ensure that your card is still active. Call your credit card company or bank immediately if you notice "pings" on your statement.

Put your garbage out in the morning on pick-up day

Dumpster divers generally dig through trash under the guise of darkness.

Do not provide information over the phone

Never give personal information to someone you don't know and trust over the phone. Tell the caller that you will contact the financial institution, verify the validity of the request, and then give the information if necessary. The caller will attempt to give you a phone number to call, but do not use that number. It could be a number to another thief. Instead, call the phone number listed on your debit or credit card and explain the situation to the Customer Service Representative. He or she should be able to verify the validity of the request.

Do not click on email or pop-up links asking for personal information

Similar to not providing phone solicited information, you should never supply internet solicited information without first verifying the validity of the request using the same process outlined above.

Protect your mail

If you are going out of town, ask a friend or neighbor to pick up your mail. Or place a hold on your mail at your local Post Office or by visiting the U.S. Post Office website. Do not send anything personal from your home mail box. Raising that red flag is just that - a big red flag for identity thieves. It shouts "Come and get me! No one is home and I'm something important!" If a couple days pass and you haven't gotten mail, don't hesitate to contact the post office to verify that your address has not been changed. Lastly, keep an eye out for missing monthly statements. If you haven't received your bank or credit card statement, it's worth a call to the bank or Credit Card Company.

Protect your Social Security Number

Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. The same goes for your health insurance card and your Medicare card if they contain your SSN. Don't give your Social Security Number to anyone unless you have verified that it's absolutely necessary. You would be surprised how many forms and applications ask for your SSN even though it isn't absolutely necessary. Ask the companies that do require your Social Security Number, how they safeguard your information. What safeguards are in place to ensure that your personal information doesn't end up in the trash?

Turn on the phishing detector on your computer

This will help weed out most phishing attempts. Keep in mind that no one security feature is 100% effective. If you use Firefox, this feature is automatically enabled. If you use Internet Explorer, go to the Tools menu and click on "Phishing Filter". Then select "Turn on Automatic Website Checking" and click OK.

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