Identity theft can happen to anyone, but you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim by taking some simple steps to protect your personal information.
Keep Your Personal Information Secure
The most important step to take in protecting yourself from identity theft is assuring your sensitive information is secure — whether it is on paper, online, stored on your computer or on a mobile device.
Here are steps you can take to keep your information secure:
- Store documents that have your personal information, including financial documents, Social Security, Medicare and credit cards in a safe place at home and at work.
- Limit what you carry. Leave your social security card and Medicare card at home – unless you are going to need them for a specific reason.
- Don’t share your personal, financial or health plan information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have a trusted relationship with the requestor and you initiated the contact.
- Inspect your credit card receipts. It should not show your full account number. If your receipt shows more than the last four digits, report it to the Office of the Attorney General.
- Use only one credit card for your online purchases. Do not use a debit card.
- Consider opting out of most prescreened offers of credit by calling 1-888-567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com. Those offers could be used by identity thieves who steal mail.
- Pick up your mail promptly and use a secure mailbox.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, loan and credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, and similar documents when you no longer need them. A “cross cut” shredder is best for this.
- Use different and strong passwords for each of your accounts – and then safeguard them. Learn more from the Federal Trade Commission about safe password practices and how to protect your personal information online.
- Before you sell, give away or dispose of a laptop, computer or mobile device, get rid of all the personal information you have stored on it. Learn more from the Federal Trade Commission on disposing of old computers..
Monitor Your Credit Reports, Bank and Credit Accounts
One of the most effective ways to protect against identity theft is to monitor your credit reports and billing statements so you can spot and report unauthorized activity.
Here are ways you can monitor your statements and reports:
- Order a free copy of your credit report by phone, toll-free at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Open and read your bank account and credit billing statements when you receive them. Check for unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report any immediately by phone and in writing.
- If you receive bills and financial statements by mail, be aware of when they normally arrive each month. Call the company if they don’t arrive on time. Statements may be missing because someone has changed your mailing addresses to hide fraudulent charges.
- Review your IRS and Social Security accounts for accuracy.
Ask Questions Before You Share Your Information
Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you are asked to provide personal information like your Social Security number or date of birth.
The following questions can help you decide if it is safe to share your information:
- Ask why the company needs your information and what happens if you don’t share it.
- Ask how they will protect your information and who they will share it with.