Theft or identity fraud is the taking of a victim’s identity for financial gain or to conceal the real identity of the perpetrator and is one of the fastest growing crimes today.
For an identity thief to have access to your Social Security number, date of birth, or sometimes just your address and telephone number can allow them 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.
The following are steps you can take to make it more difficult for these thieves to obtain your personal information. The following tips can help from becoming a victim of identity theft:
Protect Your Social Security Number
- Social Security number (SSN): Don’t carry your SSN in your wallet or write it on a check. Give your social security number only when absolutely necessary.
- Health Insurance or Medicare Card: If you feel that you must a health or medicare insurance card at all times, photocopy the original card and cut it down to wallet size. Then blacken out or cut out the last four digits of the SSN on the copy. Carry the copy with you rather than the actual card.
- State Drivers Licenses: In December 17, 2005 a new law went into effect that applies to all registrations, and identification cards issued after that date. If your license still uses your SSN as the ID number, you can request this be changed. You don’t need to wait until it expires to get one with a different number, though you may be charged a fee for the new issuance.
Treat Your Trash and Mail Carefully
- Shred: To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bin, always shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards, credit offers you get in the mail and other and any other documents which contain personal information.
- Mail: Deposit your outgoing mail containing personally identifying information in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from you mailbox. If you are planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, contact the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
- Unsolicited Offers: To opt out of receiving prescreened offers of credit in the mail, call 1-888-567-8688. Please note that you will be asked to provide your SSN which the consumer reporting companies need to match you with your file.
- Credit Card vs. Debit Card: Think about which card to use, with a debit card you can be liable for up to $500 in charges made by a thief but with a credit card your liability is limited to $50.
- Credit Freeze: Many states have laws that let consumers “freeze” their credit which restricts access to his or her credit report. If you place a credit freeze, potential creditors and other third parties will not be able to get access to your credit report unless you temporarily lift the freeze. Credit freeze laws vary from state to state, as also the cost of placing, temporarily lifting and removing a credit freeze.
Protect your private information while shopping online. Look for a URL that begins with ‘https://’, or the words ‘Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)’ or a padlock in the status bar. These signs indicate that only you and the merchant can view your payment information.
Identity theft is an incredibly difficult crime to undo, so you should take every precaution you can to avoid becoming its next victim.
The Vital Records PortaVault is a safe place to store items that contain your sensitive information, like copies of the credit cards you carry in your wallet, your Social Security card, copy of your drivers license and your original medical insurance card (if it contains your SSN.)