Identity theft is a crime in which a thief will use your stolen identity to obtain credit, commit fraud, or take other actions that can harm your reputation. Thieves will use credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, addresses or phone numbers to open a credit card or bank account, allowing for fraudulent purchases and other criminal activities. For the victim, correcting the damage can be costly and time consuming.
- Never provide personal information, such as passwords, bank account or credit card information in response to unsolicited email or telephone requests.
- Keep items with personal information in a safe place.
- Destroy old personal information such as checks, expired credit cards, items with account numbers and preapproved credit card solicitations in a shredder.
- Provide your Social Security number only when necessary
- Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
- Minimize the number of credit cards you carry and cancel inactive accounts.
- Sign the back of credit and debit cards with permanent ink.
- Take outgoing mail to the post office, rather than placing in your home mailbox. Place a hold on your mail with the post office, while on vacation.
- Review account statements regularly to ensure all charges are accurate.
Limit unwanted calls
- Add your home and cell phone numbers to the federal no-call list. To sign up visit www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222.
- Be aware that political and charitable organizations are exempt from the no-call list. There are people who pose as charities or political parties - always check the legitimacy of any caller.
Limit unwanted emails
- Use an email filter. Check your email account to see if it provides a tool to filter out potential spam or to channel spam into a bulk email folder.
- Limit your exposure. Try not to display your email address in public. That includes blog posts, chat rooms and social networking sites. Spammers use the web to harvest email addresses.
Reduce paper mail
Reduce the amount of mail you receive by calling the national credit bureaus' opt-out line at 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visiting their website at www.optoutprescreen.com. This action will reduce the number of pre-approved credit offers you will receive. There is an option to make this temporary or permanent and we recommend making this option permanent. You will see credit offers diminish after you choose this option.
Monitor your credit report
Check your credit report at least once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you do not have access to the internet call 1-877-322-8228. We recommend making three separate requests during the year (one request per year from each credit reporting agency is free).
- Firewalls. Utilize a firewall to help screen out hackers, viruses and worms that try to reach your computer over the internet. Your internet service provider often offer this as a bundled service.
- Anti-Virus Software. To protect your computer from viruses, you should be using anti-virus software. You can buy such software online or from a computer store. Make sure your software is set to update automatically to keep up with the updates and best protection.
- Patching. Keeping your software current with patches is an important step in protecting your computer. Flaws or weaknesses in software can lead to your computer being compromised.
- Strong Passwords. Do not use passwords that are easily guessed, or include names of family members or pets. Passwords should be a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Change your passwords regularly.
- Do not use public computers or public or unknown Wi-Fi, to access your accounts.
- Never log in to online accounts from an email; type the URL in the browser bar.
If the identity theft has seriously and substantially affected you financially, or through criminal impersonation, contact the local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction where the crime was committed.
- Fill out the ID Theft Affidavit online at the FTC site and send it to each credit reporting agency and to any affected creditors immediately: Call 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or go to www.identitytheft.gov.
- Report the identity theft immediately to one of the credit reporting agencies and ask them to place a fraud alert on your account. The alert will remain on your report for about 90 days unless you choose to extend the alert or ask for a security freeze. If you call one agency, they will forward the fraud alert to the others:
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289 or www.transunion.com
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com
Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or www.experian.com
- Close any affected accounts and stop payment on any stolen checks. Consider putting additional layers of security on any accounts that might be vulnerable.
- Do not use the same passwords and personal identification numbers that were on the compromised accounts – choose new ones.
- Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles if your driver’s license is stolen.
- If your checkbook is stolen notify your financial institution and check approval agencies:
Telecheck, 1-800-710-9898, www.telecheck.com
Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems), 1-800-437-5120
- Notify the postal inspector and your carrier if mail is involved.
- Call the Social Security fraud hotline 1-800-269-0271 if you believe your Social Security information has been compromised.
If an identity thief has used your personal information to create tax problems call the IRS at 1-877-777-4778, or go to their website at www.irs.gov/advocate.
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