How to reduce your exposure to identity theft-part 1 of 3

Identity theft is the act of someone stealing your personal information and pretending to be you.  They may open credit cards to buy things in your name, or try to use your insurance information to get medical care.  While you can’t eliminate the risk of identity theft completely, you can make it more difficult for someone to obtain your personal information.  It’s more important than ever to learn how to reduce your exposure to identity theft.  The information contained is this series is compiled from multiple sources, including government brochures from the Federal Trade Commission.

  • Regularly review your account statements and billing statements for accuracy.
  • Pay attention to billing cycles; follow up with creditors if bills do not arrive on time.
  • Don’t carry your social security number in your wallet, write it on checks, or give it out unless absolutely necessary.  Watch for account numbers that contain your social security number.
  • Dumpster diving is a common way personal information is stolen.  Shred all financial documents, offers of credit, old bills and paperwork with personal information, before discarding, or recycling, using a cross-cut shredder.
  • Do not leave mail out for postal employees to pick up.
  • Delivered mail should be deposited in a secure location, which does not allow anyone to pick up your mail.
  • Do not donate over the phone, give credit card, driver’s license, or social security numbers (even the last four digits), mother’s maiden name, or other important information to people over the phone if you did not initiate the call.
  • It’s suggested not to give personal information on mobile or cordless phones, or in public, as the conversations can be overheard, or picked up on scanners and monitors.
  • Don’t leave personal or valuable information in your car.
  • Make sure to keep a copy of all the contents of your wallet or purse so that if it gets stolen, you can report the theft to your bank, the police, DMV and other institutions more quickly and completely to further reduce your exposure to identity theft.
  • If you must leave sensitive information in a hotel room, put it in the hotel’s safety deposit box.
  • Be creative in passwords mixing letters and numbers.  Don’t use obvious passwords like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, kids or pets names, or the last four digits of your social security number.  I just heard a recent newscast which indicated that passwords with 12 characters is optimum.
  • Do not have passwords written anywhere in your purse or wallet-they will get found and used, making your accounts more easily and quickly vulnerable.
  • Protect your medical information as you would guard any financial information.
  • If your driver’s license gets stolen, contact the DMV by phone at (800)777-0133 or on the web at www.dmv.ca.gov/consumer/fraud.htm
  • If your passport is stolen, contact the US Department of State by phone at (877)487-2778 or on the web at www.state.gov
  • Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have people working in your home.  A 2006 study by Javelin Strategy and Research indicates that when an identity thief is identified, 47 percent of the thefts are committed by someone close to the victim.
  • Obtain and review one free credit report per credit reporting agency (there are three of them) per year.  You can stagger the reports to receive one each four months. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877)322-8228.
  • Be sure to follow up with the credit reporting agencies if you are denied credit for no reason.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new, or change accounts in your name.  The alerts are good for 90 days.
  • You can also place a credit freeze on your credit report through the credit reporting agencies-this prevents anyone, including you, to open new accounts and anyone including prospective employers and landlords from checking your report.  This remains in place until you permanently lift, or temporarily lift while you apply for credit, further reducing your exposure to identity theft.

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