Strategies to Avoid Identity Theft Back »

We are all concerned about identity theft. Fortunately we can reduce our risk of becoming a victim. Here are some tips:

Protect your personal information.

Protect personal information by not sharing your Social Security Number, credit card information, or bank account information with anyone unless you initiated contact. Also keep your Social Security Card stored in a secure location such as a safe deposit box. In addition, only carry your Medicare Card when you are scheduled to go to the doctor.

Remove yourself from mailing and calling lists.

Remove your contact information from mailing and calling lists.

  • To put a stop to preapproved credit card offers, visit optoutprescreen.com or call 888.567.8688. Please note this service will request your Social Security Number and date of birth. 
  • To reduce telemarketing calls, register your telephone number with donotcall.gov. Please note that legitimate companies will not call phone numbers on the do-not-call list. If you receive calls after registering your phone number, you can safely assume the caller is trying to scam you.
  • DMA Choice is an additional service that allows us to control the direct mailing items we receive. Please visit dmachoice.org to learn more.

Use strong passwords.

Use strong passwords and codes for your electronic devices, online accounts, and computers. Changing your password regularly is not necessary if it is strong. Passwords should be more than 8 characters long, with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols (#, &, *, etc.). Never use the same password for multiple accounts or words that can be found in the dictionary.

If you are like me and have trouble remembering passwords, try the sentence (pass phrase) strategy. Here is an example. I selected a verse from the Bible: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” To create your password, use the first letter of each word. The password would be:  “IibttritLtttih.”. To make it extra strong, replace a letters with a number and a symbol. For example, “#ibttritLt3tih.”.

Be wary of unknown emails.

Delete emails from strangers or claim to represent the Social Security Administration, IRS or other government agencies. Also be skeptical of emails claiming there is a problem with your bank, credit card or Utilities Company, especially if they are asking you to confirm sensitive information such as your Social Security Number. Delete these message immediately and contact the telephone number found on the back of your card or statement.

Secure your mailbox.

Either empty it quickly or buy a box that locks. In addition, outgoing mailing containing payments or sensitive information should be placed in U.S. Postal Service mail boxes or delivered directly to the post office.

Monitor your bank accounts.

Monitor your accounts by reviewing credit card and bank statements carefully. Ask your bank or credit card issuers if they offer free alerts to warn about suspicious activity. I recently received a call from my bank that my debit card had been used in Texas. They immediately canceled the card and issued me a new one. I was also not responsible for the charges. Ask your bank for details.

Track your credit.

Watch your credit by signing up for a monthly service. Many credit issuers or banks offer this service to their customers for a monthly fee. You may also get one free report each year from the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by visiting annualcreditreport.com or calling 877.322.8228.

Consider a credit security freeze.

Consider setting up security freezes with the three credit bureaus if you do not plan to apply for new credit, loans, insurance or utility services. A freeze prevents crooks from opening accounts in your name. Rules vary by state. Please visit all three bureaus online to learn more about setting up a freeze (equifax.com, experian.com and transunion.com). Please note there is a small fee to setup the freeze that may be waived if you are 65 or older.

Create a family code for phone calls.

Create a family code word or phrase for telephone calls. A common strategy to scam people out of their hard-earned dollars is to call and claim to be a family member in trouble. For example, a grandson may call and claim to need money to buy a plane ticket to get home from a foreign country. A family code word or phrase could be used to confirm the caller is who they say they are. Be sure it’s not something that someone could figure out with an internet search (e.g. Husband’s name). A good time to share the family code or phrase is during family gatherings such as Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Another strategy is to request a telephone number from the caller. If they are unwilling to provide it, hang up immediately. Call a friend or family member and alert them about the situation. They should be able to help locate the family member the caller was claiming to be and determine if there is an actual need for assistance.

In Summary

We can protect ourselves from identity theft. The key is to reduce ways scam artist can access our personal information.

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