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Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2013 | Consumer Protection

Identity theft comes in many forms and faces, and can hit anyone at any time.  Believe it or not small children can be victims of identity theft if they have a Social Security number.  It doesn’t matter what your social economic status is; if you have any credit, or any credit card, a sophisticated identity thief can help themselves to some luxuries on you.  Below are some ways to avoid identity theft:

1. Never give out your social security number on the phone or over the Internet unless you have an existing relationship with that person or business. Thieves need only one piece of information about you such as your social security or birth date; they don’t need a credit card to obtain a credit report and then gather additional information about you.

2. Birthdates, home addresses and social security numbers don’t belong on social media.  Because social media has grown so much and is widely accepted as a form of communication over the last few years, nonfinancial information is easily accessible on social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Be careful and think twice before you put your personal information on social media sites.

3. Notice when your credit card statements arrive each month (they come the same time every month) and when your current credit or debit card expires.  Most banks begin to send renewed cards in the month before the expiration, so be expecting a new card. Identity thieves can intercept credit cards or bills to change the billing address and rack up charges on your credit card before you realize it was stolen.

4. If a bank sends you courtesy checks and you are not planning on using the checks, tear them up or shred them.  A thief can pick them out of your garbage and sign for the money.

5. Review your bank and credit card statements carefully for small charges.  Thieves often test out the account by charging a small amount, even a few pennies, before making a larger purchase.  Fraud alerts are generally not activated by purchases under a certain dollar amount.

6. Review your credit report regularly.  You are entitled to ONE FREE COPY of each of your three credit reports every twelve (12) months by accessing the website or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

7. If an ATM does not look right, do not use it.  If the card feels differently after you swipe it or the machine looks unusual, avoid the machine or immediately cancel the transaction.  There could be a credit card skimmer attached to the ATM.  Skimmers are electronic devices placed in the card slot by thieves.  The skimmers capture your card information when you swipe it.  Also, look for any oddly placed cameras.  While it is normal for a security camera to face the person using the ATM, it is not normal for a camera to face the card slot.

8. Pay attention when you pay with a credit card – especially at restaurants or other places where the card is removed from your sight.  Be aware if too much time is taken or if the customer in line behind you is looking over your shoulder.  If the purchase seems suspicious in any way, check your statements for unusual activity.  Look to see if the waiter has a device on their belt where they can swipe the card.

9. Become friendly with a shredder and consider going paperless.  If possible, get your monthly financial statements and bills sent to you electronically.  Shred all documents that contain personal and financial information. Shredders have come down in price so purchasing one is an investment in safeguarding your financial identity.

10. Use cash for smaller purchases.  Many people have become accustomed to using a credit or debit card for every purchase, no longer using cash.  ATM charges, or the fear of carrying cash, has more consumers opting for plastic instead. However, the more times that card is pulled out to swipe; the more opportunities arise for a thief to obtain the information.  A good rule of thumb is, on smaller purchases, use cash whenever possible.