Protecting your identity from fraud involves knowing what your identity consists of in the virtual world. Three important identifiers that criminals target are your full name, your birthdate and your social security number. However, these are only a few types of information that criminals can obtain. Taking steps to protect yourself from identity theft involves a wide range of precautions. Consider the following measures:
Shred all information before you throw it away. Use a cross-cut type shredder. Shred all your important papers including pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bank statements and anything that contains information about you.
Be aware that people can go into your curb side trash container on trash day and gain vital information. In some states it is not illegal. When you are at your place of employment, don't think that throwing away sensitive material in trash cans and dumpsters in the parking lot is safe. Information can be easily retrieved by people who look in these dumpsters - "dumpster divers" - and others who are pretending to clean or change trash liners. Call the El Paso Shred Corp to find the safest solution for your unwanted paper files.
Be careful at ATM's and using Phone Cards. Shoulder surfers (people who peer over your shoulder while you type in your pin number) can get enough information to get access to your accounts.
Do not allow any of your checks to be mailed to your house. Pick them up yourself when you go to your job, bank or P.O. box.
Mail theft is common. Acid washing is a way to change and modify information on a check. Do not put checks in your home mailbox expecting the mail deliverer to pick them up. Instead, drop them off in a U.S. Mailbox or at the U.S. Post Office.
Use credit cards when shopping online instead of debit cards. Credit cards are better protected against fraud. When you are out shopping, take credit card and debit card receipts with you when you receive them. Do not leave the receipts on a table at a restaurant or throw them in a public trash can near a debit machine. Instead, take them home and put them in a shredder.
Change the password on your credit and debit accounts every 6-8 months.
When making a password, use the maximum number of characters allowed. Use numbers, letters and symbols. Divide the number of letters that you use evenly with upper and lower case letters. Do not use your mother's maiden name, birth date, or any other identifiable information in your password. Do not use the same passwords for all of your active accounts. Change your passwords regularly, and if you write them down, shred the paper file with the old passwords.
Don't carry extra information in your wallet or purse that is important: extra credit cards or checks, social security card, birth certificate, or lists of pin and passwords. Try to memorize as much as possible. Get credit cards and business cards with your picture on them.
Never give out any of your personal information to people who make unsolicited or "cold calls". These individuals will ask for your credit card numbers or your bank account numbers in exchange for promises never intended to be kept. Other common circumstances that you should not give out information:
|º  ||Promises made for a free prize in exchange for purchasing or testing a product.|
|º  ||Offers made to you for a chance to make lots of money working at home or buying a franchise.|
|º  ||Offers for opportunities to invest at a discount or earn a very high rate of return.|
|º  ||Someone asks you to contribute to a charity that doesn't exist or a charity where most of the money goes to the fundraiser instead of to the charity itself.|
|º  ||You receive a phone call from somebody pretending to be an employee of your bank or credit card company, saying there's been a mix-up with your credit card and asking for your credit card number or expiration date to straighten out the problem.|
|º  ||Someone promises to clean up your credit for a fee.|
|º  ||Someone makes an offer for sweepstakes, or an offer that may require that you call an 800 or 900 number so you can be subjected to a high-pressure sales pitch.|
|º  ||Offers from companies trying to sell their goods or services, or offers urging you to call and make purchases in response to mailings or other forms of advertising.|
Do not put your phone number or your social security number on your checks. If a business requests your social security number, give them an alternate number. A SSN is an identifier used mainly by the IRS. If any other government agency requests your social security number, there must be a privacy notice accompanying the request.
Do not give any sensitive information on an online form unless it is a secure (encrypted ) website.
Do not put your account number or drivers license number on the outside of envelopes or on your checks.
Do not allow any institution to use your SSN as a password for your account. This is common, and they will often write the four digits on a cover sheet or folder with the rest of your information inside.
Do not allow any institution to influence you into believing that your SSN is necessary for a retail transaction to take place. Unfortunately, this is often the case when buying a new car. Try to challenge the dealership into accepting other information. Do not to allow your health insurance carrier to use your social security number as your identification number.
Check your bank statements every month by calling or visiting your bank. Check to see if there is any activity that you do not recognize.
Order your credit report at least twice a year. Review it carefully. Immediately correct any mistakes on your credit reports in writing. You should hear from them within 30 days. Be sure to get copies of your credit reports from all 3 major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. By law, you're entitled to a free copy of each of your three credit reports once a year. It has recently been reported by news agencies that at least 1 out of the 3 major credit agencies has recorded a mistake in your credit file. To review your credit file, request copies from:
* Review and question any credit transactions that don't look right!
Take your name off all promotional lists. Call the three credit reporting agency numbers that are listed above and opt out of pre-approved offers.
Do not keep lists of your credit card account numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, phone numbers and other vital information stored on your computer. This information can be accessed anywhere that you may have it stored on your computer when you are using the Internet.
If you rely on web based email, make sure to always use the log out function when you are done. This will allow you to navigate away from your inbox so that a safe and secure exit will occur. This is important to consider if you are at your job or in a public library because without a complete log out, curious individuals can search the history of your email account activity and gain personal information.
Firewalls provide protection against outside attackers by shielding your computer or network from malicious or unnecessary Internet traffic. Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain locations while allowing the relevant and necessary data through. They are especially important for users who rely on "always on" connections such as cable or DSL modems.
If you receive applications for "pre-approved" credit cards in the mail, don't discard them without shredding the enclosed materials. Otherwise, it makes it easy for criminals to retrieve them and activate the cards for their use without your knowledge. Some credit card companies, when sending credit cards, have adopted security measures that allow a card recipient to activate the card only from his or her home telephone number but this is not yet a universal practice. Also, if your mail is delivered to a place where others have ready access to it, criminals may simply intercept and redirect your mail to another location.
Be cautious about what kind of information you post in an obituary. It is recommended that the full name and address be omitted from the obituary. These critical pieces of information can be used by an identity thief known as 'a Ghoster' in securing stolen identities from a dead person 'the Ghost.' Identity thieves that specialize in "Ghosting" are ID thieves that check the obituaries often, as they are looking for the right identity to steal. Ghosters will go after a deceased person with similar characteristics such as age, race, gender, nationality,. etc. Ghosting starts when an individual dies and the obituary is published in a local newspaper. After the identity thief gets the full name and address of the deceased they plan to assume, they then use a variety of methods to obtain the social security number.
Families of a recently deceased person are encouraged to immediately notify the Social Security Administration about the death and to contact all three CRA's. In addition, CRA's should be supplied with copies of the death certificate. The deceased survivors should request that the deceased's account be flagged with a message saying, "Deceased. Do not issue credit." These measures hasten the process of deactivating accounts of the recently deceased and help to eliminate at least one avenue that identity thieves use to secure stolen identity data. If identity theft of a deceased family member is suspected, one should immediately contact the CRAs and request a credit report in order to check activity on these accounts. If there is indeed any unauthorized activity, both the police and interested creditors should be notified immediately.