Identity theft can have devastating consequences to your life both financially and emotionally. Victims of identity theft feel violated and vulnerable. Identity theft is just as it sounds, someone steals your important and sensitive information such as your social security number, credit card numbers or bank account information and opens credit accounts or takes out loans under your name. The thief enjoys his/her windfall while you credit is obliterated. There are some steps you can take to make your important information more secure and less likely for thieves to get their hands on.
Keep on top of your credit report and check it carefully and entirely. Look for any credit accounts or debts that are not yours. Credit reports are available through Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.
Destroy credit card receipts, bank receipts, ATM receipts, credit card statements, bank statements and any other papers that have sensitive account information or your social security number. Use a cross cut shredder which is a paper shredder that shreds in both directions, never just toss these papers in the garbage. Identity thieves will and oftentimes do get information from the garbage.
Keep all important documents such as passports, deeds and wills in a safe or in a safe deposit box at a bank.
Change passwords for online accounts frequently and never use passwords that would be easy to figure out like your address, birth date, phone number, your name or your kids' names.
Never give anyone your social security number, credit card number, account information or other personal information over the phone unless you contacted them. Even if your caller ID shows the caller is calling from a company you deal with, do not trust it because there are computer programs identity thieves use to trick a caller id unit.
Do not reply to emails asking for any personal or confidential information. Never click on links in emails even if they seem legitimate. Close the email and go to the company's website directly or call and ask about the email you received, but don't call the phone number listed on the email. Use the phone number on the back of the credit card, bank or whatever company the email is allegedly from.
Keep virus protection software up to date and run virus scans regularly to avoid being a victim of identity theft.
Use a firewall on your computer to stop anyone from hacking into your computer or network and stealing your information.
Make sure your browser is secure and make sure when you are entering sensitive information on a website, the website is encrypted. To see if it is encrypted, you should see a small lock icon on the lower right corner of the web page.
Wipe your hard drive clean before you get rid of an old computer. Programs are available to remove all info from a hard drive. You can also physically remove the hard drive from the computer and destroy it.
Never have your checking account checks delivered to your house, always pick them up at your bank. A box of checks can easily be stolen by an identity thief from your mail box or anywhere along the way.
Keep your laptop secure. It is easy to lose a laptop or have it stolen with all of your sensitive information. Never store passwords, credit card numbers or account numbers on your laptop.
Do not bring all of your credit cards or debit cards out with you. Leave all but one home in a secure place. If your wallet or purse is stolen identity thieves can rack up serious damage on those cards in a short amount of time.
Keep a list of your credit cards, account numbers and the phone numbers in a secure place in your home so if the they are lost or stolen the accounts can be frozen immediately.
Do not trust all web sites that you find, many are scam sites just waiting to make you a victim of identity theft.
Do not let anyone you do not trust to use your computer, it would be very easy for them to steal your personal information.
Stay up to date on the latest scams, online, via mail, telephone and in person. Stay informed.
Do not keep important info such as auto registration, driver license or other important papers in your glove box in your car.
If you are the victim of identity theft:
File a report with your local police
Contact The Federal Trade Commission www.consumer.gov/idtheft or call them at 577-438-4338
Report the identity theft to the 3 main credit agencies
Report it to the IRS
Report it to the U.S. Postal Service
Submit police reports to credit card companies to prove the identity theft.