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PROTECTION - Prevent What You Can

Congratulations on your decision to educate yourself on identity theft protection.  As Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  That statement is so true when it comes to identity theft protection. 

The key to protecting yourself is to be proactive.  Most identity thieves are opportunists... the easier it is to obtain your information, the more of a target you become.   Conversely, the more difficult you make it for an identity thief to access, obtain, and use your information, the safer you will be.  Don't just ignore the problem, hoping you won't be the next victim.   Take Action!

Please review the following 9 steps to help protect yourself, and check back regularly as we update this page with new information.

Of course, no matter how diligent you are at protecting your information, you could still become a victim.  A good analogy is: no matter how safe a driver you are, it is still possible for you to be hit by someone else, right?  That's why it is so important to subscribe to a credit monitoring service that will alert you to any activity to your credit report. (see Step 2)  You can then take restoration measures IMMEDIATELY and save as much time, energy, and aggravation as possible.


1. Protect Your Social Security number

The key that an identity thief uses to unlock your private financial information is your Social Security number.

  • Do not have your SSN printed on your checks.
  • After applying for a loan, credit card, rental or anything else that requires a credit report, request that your Social Security number on the application be deleted and your original credit report be shredded before your eyes or returned to you once a decision has been made.   The company may not be willing to do this, but it is always best to ask.   And, as more people demand this, companies will be more likely to institute reforms and best practices to protect our information!
  • Also, order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once a year to make sure that someone isn't fraudulently using your SSN to obtain employment by pretending to be you!

2. Monitor Your Credit Report

Be sure to check your credit report regularly.  Even better, subscribe to a credit monitoring service that will alert you to any activity.  This way, you will be notified whenever someone opens an account in your name, changes your address, or checks your credit history.  This "early warning" of a possible identity theft incident could save you an incredible amount of time, money, and aggravation.   [Click here for a frightening example of how your personal information can be compromised!]

3. Shred, Shred, Shred!

Your garbage is a prime target of identity thieves in their quest to obtain your personal information.

  • Buy and use a shredder to destroy all financial statements and credit-card offers before discarding them.   Any shredder is better than no shredder, but, for added security, consider spending a little extra for a "crosscut" or "confetti"shredder.
  • Use the "worst enemy" standard... if you wouldn't give the information to your worst enemy, shred it!
  • Also, don't just delete files from your computer's hard drive.   Be sure to " wipe " the information using a "virtual shredder" software application.

4. Remove Your Name from Marketing Lists

Contact Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, which maintain marketing lists that may contain your information, to remove your name.  You should also "opt-out" of pre-approved credit card offers, by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT.  And, add your name to the name-deletion list of the Direct Marketing Association .

5. Be "Wallet Smart"

  • Remove your Social Security card from your wallet and don't carry extra credit cards or other important identification documents except when needed.
  • Photocopy the contents of your wallet including both sides of your license and credit cards.  This will be valuable and save a lot of time if your wallet or purse is stolen.

6. Use "Checkbook Safeguards"

  • Have as little information printed on your checks as possible and don't include your Driver's License Number.   You might even consider using only your first initial (instead of your full first name) so that someone who looks at your check won't know your complete name.
  • Mail bill payments and checks from a safe location: not from your home or business.  They can be stolen from your mailbox and washed clean in chemicals.  Take them to the post office instead.
  • Only use Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) that are operated by banks or other legitimate financial institutions and avoid those that are found in convenience stores and gas stations.  The added convenience is not worth the risk since some of these are "skimming" machines which capture your account number and PIN.
  • Also consider using a "gel pen" with ink that is difficult to remove.

7. Monitor your Bank and Credit Card Statements

Any delay in reporting a fraudulent transaction could affect your legal rights and make it more difficult for you to have the problem corrected later.

  • As difficult as it may be sometimes, reconcile your checkbook monthly.  If you don't, at least check your statements to confirm that all of the checks and withdrawals were made by you.
  • Also, examine your credit-card statements for fraudulent charges BEFORE paying them.

8. Maintain Computer Privacy

  • Beware of "phishing" scams where identity thieves pose as legitimate companies and ask for your personal information
  • Guard your passwords and use passwords that are a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols (not simple things to guess, like your birth date or pet's name, etc.)
  • Use a firewall and an anti-spyware program to help prevent unauthorized access to your private information

9. Be Cautious and Use Common Sense

Be aware of your surroundings.  For example, look out for people with "camera cell phones" near you when you are entering your PIN in an automated teller machine.  And, only give your credit-card number or personal information over the telephone or internet IF you initiated the call and trust that business.



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Quote of the Day
"A good reputation is more valuable than money." - Syrus (Publilius Syrus)
Tip of the Day
If you receive pre-screened credit card offers in the mail, but don't shred them after you decide you don't want to accept the offer, identity thieves could retrieve the offers for their own use without your knowledge. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) to opt out of receiving these pre-screened credit card offers. The three major credit bureaus use the same toll-free number to let consumers choose to not receive pre-screened credit offers.
Today's Story
"My purse was stolen in December 1990. In February 1991, I started getting notices of bounced checks. About a year later, I received information that someone using my identity had defaulted on a number of lease agreements and bought a car. In 1997, I learned that someone had been working under my Social Security number for a number of years. A man had been arrested and used my SSN on his arrest sheet. There's a hit in the FBI computers for my SSN with a different name and gender. I can't get credit because of this situation. I was denied a mortgage loan, employment, credit cards, and medical care for my children. I've even had auto insurance denied, medical insurance and tuition assistance denied." - From a consumer complaint to the FTC, January 2, 2001
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