Even if you’ve been on your best financial behavior for years -- paying your bills on time, saving regularly and borrowing wisely – you could have an evil twin who’s messing things up for you with unauthorized shopping sprees and vacations. The fact that there’s an army of impostors looking to tap into your credit cards and bank accounts is not some far-fetched story line. In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission fielded nearly 250,000 complaints of identity theft, a crime that could do real damage to your good credit record, costing you big money when you borrow and possibly limiting your ability to get a loan at all.
Here are seven I Dos and I Don’ts for protecting your ID.
1. I Don’t give out personal financial information to people I don’t know.
Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or pop-ups requesting information, even if they look like they’re from a company you do business with. And while the Internet remains a favorite tool of evil twins, continue to be wary of requests that come by telephone or through the mail.
2. I Do shred all my receipts and financial records before throwing them away.
You may not be able to imagine rummaging through a pile of garbage, but to an identity thief, your trash is a potential treasure trove of useful information.
3. I Don’t let my mail sit in my mailbox overnight.
When they are not dumpster diving, identity thieves actually troll mailboxes for letters that could include personal financial information. Retrieve incoming mail as soon as you can, and don’t put outgoing mail in the box until shortly before pickup, if possible. Even better: Deposit outgoing mail directly into a more secure post office box.
4. I Don’t carry my social security card with me.
And don’t have it printed on your checks, either. Avoid giving it out unless absolutely necessary.
5. I Do thoroughly read all my credit card statements for unexpected charges.
Be alert for the bills that you don’t receive as well. Sometimes thieves will change the address on your credit card account, hoping it will buy them more time before you notice someone else has been using it.
6. I Do check my credit report each year.
Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and inspect your credit report annually for any irregularities.
7. I Do know what to do if I believe my identity has been stolen.
There are four essential steps to take if you think an identity thief has struck: Contact one of the three major credit bureaus (www.equifax.com, www.experian.com, www.transunion.com), and have them put a fraud alert on your credit report; close the accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently; file a complaint with the FTC; and file a police report with local authorities.
For more information, check out the FTC’s guide to all-things-identity-theft at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/about-identity-theft.html.