Don’t Give Your Identity to a Thief for Christmas
Working hard, paying your bills, and being an all-around respectable citizen doesn’t protect you from identity theft. In fact, it can make you a target.
Identity theft – or identity fraud – is the fastest growing crime in the United States. It occurs when a victim's identity is used by another for financial gain or to conceal the real identity of the perpetrator.
If an identity thief can get access to your Social Security number (SSN), your date of birth, or even sometimes just your address and telephone number, they can use that information to pretend to be you. They can open new credit card accounts, access your present bank accounts, rent a house or apartment, establish utility company accounts, and even obtain a job – all in your name.
Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
There are steps you can take to make it more difficult for these thieves to obtain your personal information. According to the Federal Trade Commission, these tips can help protect you:
- Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact or are sure you know who you are dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. You can check the organization's website, as many companies post scam alerts when their name is used improperly, or you can call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.
- Do not carry your SSN card -- leave it in a secure place.
- Keep personal information in a secure location in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having service work done in your home.
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you are planning to be away from home and cannot pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
- To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you are discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. If you do not use the pre-screened credit card offers you receive in the mail, you can opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567- 8688). Please note that you will be asked for your Social Security number in order for the credit bureaus to identify your file so that they can remove you from their lists, and you still may receive some credit offers because some companies use different lists.
- Carry only the identification information and the number of credit or debit cards that you will actually need.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily obtainable information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother's maiden name. Use a password instead.
- Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that collect identifying information from you. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask if you can keep your information confidential.
- Give your SSN only when necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. If your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your SSN as your account number.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
- Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work as well as any copies you may keep of administrative forms that contain your sensitive personal information.
- Cancel all unused credit accounts.
- When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, rather than having them sent to your home mailbox.
One simple way to protect yourself against identity theft is to limit the amount of confidential information you carry in your wallet.
What Not to Carry
- Bank account numbers
- Personal identification numbers (PINs)
- Birth certificates
- Social Security cards
While it may seem obvious, it can't hurt to mention a few basic words about protecting your wallet.
Protecting Your Wallet
- Don't take out your wallet until you actually need it.
- Don't forget your wallet before leaving a restaurant, store or any public place.
- Never put your wallet down alongside a cash register, in a phone booth, or even on top of your car.
- A good rule of thumb is this: never set down your wallet unless your hand is attached to it.
Anyone can have their identity stolen! The experience can be intrusive and disturbing. And once someone else uses your identity, it can take months or even years to fix. Take the precautions noted above and you’ll have done what you can to save yourself from identity theft. This Christmas, don’t let thieves use your identity to purchase their Christmas gifts!
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.