Protect Yourself From Identity Thieves

The best way to combat identity fraud is to learn how to protect yourself from becoming a victim in the first place.

An identity thief is someone who steals personal information from other people in order to perpetrate a financial crime or fraud. In the wrong hands, your personal information can be used for everything from obtaining credit cards and applying for loans to renting an apartment and writing checks - all in your name. And it's easier than you might think. All that's needed to steal your identity is your Social Security number, birth date and other identifying information, such as your address and phone number. With this information and a phony driver's license, the imposter is ready to begin the crime.

Identity thieves can get your personal information from a variety of sources. They can sort through your trash for discarded receipts and financial statements, steal from your mailbox, take your wallet or spy on you to get your PIN number when you use the bank ATM machine. Also, much of your information is readily available on the Internet as well as public documents.

So how can you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft? Here are a few precautionary steps that you can take to safeguard your personal information and prevent it from getting into the wrong hands:

To minimize the amount of information a thief can steal, do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse, except when needed.

You can limit the number of pre-approved offers of credit that you receive in the mail by removing your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus. These pre-approved offers usually are discarded in the trash and are potential targets of identity thieves who use them to order credit cards in your name.
Shred charge receipts, bank statements, credit applications and other forms that contain personal information before discarding.
When ordering new checks, don't have them sent to your home. Pick them up at the bank instead.
When you pay bills, do not leave the envelopes containing your checks at your home's mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up. If stolen, your checks can be altered and then cashed. If stolen, credit card payments contain all the necessary information an identity thief needs. It's best to mail bills and other sensitive items at the post office rather than from your residence or neighborhood drop boxes.
Never give out your credit card number or other personal information over the telephone unless you have a trusted business relationship with the company and you have initiated the call.
Always take credit card and ATM receipts with you. Never toss then in a public trash container.
Watch the mail when you are expecting a new credit card that you have applied for or a re-issued card that has expired. Immediately contact the issuer if the credit card does not arrive.
When creating passwords and PINs, do not use the last four digits of your Social Security number, your birth date, middle name, mother's maiden name, address, consecutive numbers or anything else that could be discovered easily by thieves.
Memorize all of your passwords and PINs. Don't record them on anything in your wallet or purse.
Shield your hand when using your PIN at a bank ATM or when making long distance phone calls with your phone card.
Carefully review your credit card statements and phone bills for any unauthorized charges or fraudulent use.