Your personal information is everywhere. No one can guarantee that you will never be a victim of identity theft but you can reduce your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, being aware of threats and educating yourself, you can help guard against identity theft. Here are ten simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of your information being stolen and misused.
1. Order your credit report. Order your credit report each year from each of the three national credit repositories (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Check each report for accuracy and for indications of fraud, such as credit accounts that you did not open; applications for credit that you did not complete; credit inquiries that you did not make; charges you did not authorize and delinquencies that you did not cause. Check identifying information in your credit report to be sure it is accurate including your name, address and Social Security number.
2. Guard your Social Security number. Do not carry your Social Security card with you; store it in a secure place. Avoid using your Social Security number. Release it only when necessary, such as on tax forms, employment records, banking and so on. When a business asks to use your Social Security number, ask to use another number. Don't have your number printed on your checks and don't supply it to merchants that want to write it on your checks. Finally, check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement each year to ensure no one is using your number for employment.
3. Protect your mail from theft. Mail outgoing bills from post office collection boxes rather than in an unsecured mail box. Don't leave outgoing mail for your postal carrier to pick up. Pay attention to billing cycles and keep track of incoming mail, particularly tax forms, pay stubs, credit card bills and bank statements. If you don't receive these statements on time, call to find when the statements were mailed. Pick up new checks at the bank rather than having them sent to your home mailbox. Consider a locked mailbox. And, have the post office hold the mail when you are away.
4. Destroy documents before disposal. Tear, or better yet, shred your charge and ATM receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements. Also, destroy expired credit cards and convenience checks or credit offers you get in the mail. If you do not want mailed credit offers, contact the three national credit repositories and have your credit report marked "no solicitation."
5. Shop online with caution. Use only a credit card when shopping on line, not a debit card. And, designate a single, distinct credit card with a low limit for online shopping. Use a secure browser that complies with industry security standards before you provide any credit information over the internet. To determine if a site is safe, look for the "lock" symbols in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. Look for the words "Secure Sockets Layer" or the acronym "SSL" in the merchant's privacy statement. Never send payment information via e-mail.