November 2, 2006  
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Featured Issue: Identity Theft

Ten Tips to Reduce the Risk of ID Theft

Prevention, as the old saying suggests, is invariably less painful than the cure, especially as it relates to recovering from identity theft. You may already practice some of these risk minimizing tips, but incorporating all of them into your ID-theft prevention program will be in your best interests.

1. Get Off Mailing & Telemarketing Lists
  • Request to have your name removed from the marketing lists of the three main credit reporting bureaus.
  • You can view a sample opt-out letter for credit bureaus.
  • How-to-contact the three credit bureaus is included on that web page, as well.
  • To remove your name from mail and telemarketing lists contact the Direct Marketing Association. NOTE: If you opt-out online it will cost $5.
  • Free opt-out requests can be made by sending snail mail to Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735; or Telephone Preference Service, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735.
2. Travel More Lightly
  • Make it a habit to not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport, except when needed.
  • Cancel all rarely used credit card accounts. Even unused accounts offer inviting information to would-be criminals.
3. Be Mindful of Mail
  • Don't leave your bill payments at your home mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up.
  • Don't leave bill payments in a near-by drop box, either. Always take sensitive mail directly to the Post Office.
  • Use a post office box or install a locked mailbox at your residence.
  • Pick-up new checks from the bank rather than have them mailed to you.
  • Be particularly alert when you are expecting a new or reissued credit card to come in the mail. If the card doesn't arrive within a reasonable time, be sure to contact the issuer.
  • Before discarding junk mail shred or tear into small pieces any pre-approved credit offers.
4. Review Your Reports Regularly
  • Review your credit report at least once annually for inaccuracies or other yellow flags that might indicate fraud.
  • Order a Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement annually to ensure that no false earnings have been posted to your Social Security Number.
5. You CAN (and Should) Take it With You
  • Never dispose of a credit card receipt in a public trash receptacle. Take it with you. It's a good idea to keep all receipts in a handy home location, anyway, for use at tax time, as well as for tracking spending habits and sticking to budgets.
6. A Picture Worth Thousands of Dollars
  • Photocopy all of your credit cards, along with a list of expiration dates, telephone numbers of the customer service departments of all accounts.
  • Keep a similar list of bank account information and customer service or fraud contacts.
  • Keep the lists in a secure location so that, in the case of fraud, you lose no time notifying the companies and institutions involved.
7. Protect Passwords & PINS
  • Your mother's maiden name, the last four digits of your Social Security Number, your date of birth, your telephone number or other easily accessed information are NOT good ideas for passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs). They're too easy for criminals to guess.
  • Memorize your passwords or PINs. Don't carry written copies of them in your possession when shopping or traveling.
  • Guard against long-distance PIN snoopers when using the ATM machine. Shield your hand while using the keypad.
8. Pass-Up Phony Phone Folks
  • Don't fall for announcements of 'prizes' you have won that come by telephone and require your credit card number or other personal information in order to 'confirm' the award.
  • Don't give credit card or other personal information over the telephone unless you have placed the call, or if you have previously done business with the company and know it to be trustworthy.
  • The only times giving your Social Security Number is required is for situations such as tax returns, stock, banking or property purchases, and employment.
  • Don't include your SSN on your printed checks.
  • Get out of the habit of giving your SSN automatically every time someone asks for it.
  • Assert your rights. If a merchant ask to jot it onto your check, request an alternate number that may be acceptable.
  • Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement annually for signs of fraud.
10. Watch, Look, and Listen Carefully
  • Watch your credit card and other billing statements for indications of unusual charges.
  • Look into having additional security added to your accounts and how they are accessed.
  • Listen carefully to yourself while giving out personal information. Learn to practice caution.
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