Avoid Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft

Several years ago I began receiving rejection letters in the mail from credit card companies that for cards I had not applied.  I immediately became very concerned and started to make calls to the credit bureaus.  It didn’t take long to discover my identity had been stolen and someone was opening accounts and making large purchases in my name.

It took more than six months and many letters and phone calls to get this cleared up.  One of the stores even had video footage of the people using a card with my name and still did not believe it wasn’t me.

Identity theft can happen to anyone.  The following are some guidelines to help avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud. If you have already become a victim, see our Tips for Victims.

• Beware of Fake IRS E-Mails –
the IRS does not initiate communication with taxpayers through e-mail and only or extremely rare occasions to they call.

• Don’t carry a Social Security Card
, extra credit cards or a passport unless the documents are needed.

• Memorize your Social Security Number
, any personal identification numbers and passwords. If you write them down, do not record them on anything in your wallet or purse. When creating a password or PIN, do not use digits from your Social Security number, telephone number or date of birth.

• Sign new credit cards upon receipt.
 Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bills. Never throw them away intact in a public trash container.

• Never loan out your credit card.
 Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately.

• Never give out personal identity information, especially Social Security or credit card numbers over the phone, unless you know the person or business and you initiated the phone call.

• Beware of phone or mail solicitations
 disguised as promotions offering prizes or bargains designed solely to obtain your Social Security or credit card numbers.

• Don’t leave mail out for pickup
 and do have a locked mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery.

• Shred all mail, bills, receipts and financial documents
 with your name or identification numbers on them, especially pre-approved offers of credit. Thieves have been known to fish identities out of trash bins.

• Look over monthly credit card and bank statements carefully.
 Follow up if any charges or withdrawals appear suspicious.

• Order credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at least once a year
 and more often if you have been a victim. Check every line of information in your file for fraudulent activity and other discrepancies.

• Pay bills electronically when possible.
 Follow up with creditors if you do not receive a bill on time because it could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and has changed the billing address.

• Remove your name from the marketing lists
 of the three major credit reporting bureaus to limit the pre-approved offers of credit you receive.

• Keep the number of credit cards you use to a bare minimum.
Cancel all unused credit card accounts.

Even with these precautions you can still be a victim.  However,  minimizing the information someone can still will improve your chances.