MINIMIZE YOUR RISK
Place passwords on your
credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available
information like your motherís 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 motherís maiden name. Use
a password instead.
information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside
help or are having service work done in your home.
Ask about information
security procedures in your workplace. Find out who has access to your
personal information and verify that records are kept in a secure
location. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well.
Order a copy of your credit report
from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. By
checking your report on a regular basis you can catch mistakes and
fraud before they wreak havoc on your personal finances. Donít
underestimate the importance of this step. One of the most common
ways that consumers find out that theyíre victims of identity
theft is when they try to make a major purchase, like a house or a
car. The deal can be lost or delayed while the credit report mess
is straightened out. Knowing whatís in your credit report allows
you to fix problems before they jeopardize a major financial
Donít give out personal information on
the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless youíve
initiated the contact or are sure you know who youíre 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, motherís 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 organizationís 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.
Guard your mail and trash from
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
youíre planning to be away from home and canít 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
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 youíre
discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
Before revealing any personally
identifying information (for example, on an application), find out
how it will be used and secured, and whether it will be shared
with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your
information. Can you choose to have it kept confidential?
Donít carry your SSN card; leave it in
a secure place.
Give your SSN only when absolutely
necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. If
your state uses your SSN as your driverís license number, ask to
substitute another number.
Carry only the identification
information and the number of credit and debit cards that youíll
Pay attention to your billing cycles.
Follow up with creditors if your bills donít arrive on time. A
missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken
over your account and changed your billing address to cover his
Be wary of promotional scams. Identity
thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal
Keep your purse or wallet in a safe
place at work.
Special Word About Social Security Numbers
Your employer and financial institution will likely need your SSN
for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you
for your SSN to do a credit check, like when you apply for a loan,
rent an apartment, or sign up for utilities. Sometimes, however,
they simply want your SSN for general record keeping. You donít have
to give a business your SSN just because they ask for it. If someone
asks for your SSN, ask the following questions:
Why do you need my SSN?
How will my SSN be used?
What law requires me to give you my SSN?
What will happen if I donít give you
Sometimes a business may not provide you with the service or benefit
youíre seeking if you donít provide your SSN. Getting answers to
these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your
SSN with the business. Remember Ė the decision is yours.
The Doors and Windows Are Locked, but . . .
You may be careful about locking your
doors and windows, and keeping your personal papers in a secure
place. But, depending on what you use your personal computer for, an
identity thief may not need to set foot in your house to steal your
personal information. SSNs, financial records, tax returns, birth
dates, and bank account numbers may be stored in your computer Ė a
goldmine to an identity thief. The following tips can help you keep
your computer and your personal information safe.
Update your virus protection
software regularly, or when a new virus alert is announced.
Computer viruses can have a variety of damaging effects, including
introducing program code that causes your computer to send out
files or other stored information. Be on the alert for security
repairs and patches that you can download from your operating
Do not download files sent to you
by strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you donít know.
Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or a
program that could hijack your modem.
Use a firewall program, especially
if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or
T-1, which leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours
a day. The firewall program will allow you to stop uninvited
guests from accessing your computer. Without it, hackers can take
over your computer and access your personal information stored on
it or use it to commit other crimes.
Use a secure browser Ė software
that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet
Ė to guard the security of your online transactions. Be sure your
browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using
the latest version available from the manufacturer. You also can
download some browsers for free over the Internet. When submitting
information, look for the ďlockĒ icon on the browserís status bar
to be sure your information is secure during transmission.
Try not to store financial
information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do,
use a strong password Ė a combination of letters (upper and lowers
case), numbers and symbols. Donít use an automatic log-in feature
which saves your user name and password so you donít have to enter
them each time you log-in or enter a site. And always log off when
youíre finished. That way, if your laptop gets stolen, itís harder
for the thief to access your personal information.
Before you dispose of a computer,
delete personal information. Deleting files using the keyboard or
mouse commands may not be enough because the files may stay on the
computerís hard drive, where they may be easily retrieved. Use a
ďwipeĒ utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. It
makes the files unrecoverable. For more information, see Clearing
Information From Your Computerís Hard Drive (www.hq.nasa.gov/office/oig/hq/harddrive.pdf)
from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Look for website privacy policies.
They answer questions about maintaining accuracy, access,
security, and control of personal information collected by the
site, as well as how information will be used, and whether it will
consider surfing elsewhere.
For more information, see Site-Seeing
on the Internet: A Travelerís Guide to Cyberspace from the FTC at www.ftc.gov.