Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
In the fact–based movie Catch Me If You Can, a teenager passes millions of dollars in forged checks, while successfully impersonating an airline pilot, a lawyer and a doctor. The movie reminds us that there are always people who are willing to make a quick buck at someone else's expense.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes affecting American consumers. Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be transferred to someone else, your personal data can be used by anyone – to profit at your expense!
Within hours of obtaining stolen identifying information, thieves can order expensive monthly cell phone service, apply for credit cards, open new bank accounts and even receive a PIN number from DMV to update your information online.
How to Protect Yourself
To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, follow these basic steps:
- Never give personal information over the phone, such as your social security number, birth date, mother's maiden name, credit card number, or bank PIN code, unless you initiated the phone call.
- Shred pre–approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bills and other financial information before discarding them.
- Empty your wallet of extra credit cards, IDs, or better yet, cancel the ones you don't use and maintain a list of the ones you do.
- Order your credit report from the credit bureaus once a year to check for fraudulent activity or other discrepancies.
- Never leave receipts at bank machines, bank counters, trash cans, etc. Keep your paperwork. When you no longer need it, destroy it.
- Memorize your social security number and passwords. Do not record PINs on any cards or on anything in your wallet or purse.
- Notify your credit card companies and financial institutions in advance of address or phone number changes.
- Report all lost or stolen credit cards immediately.
- Beware of mail or telephone solicitations disguised as promotions offering instant prizes or awards designed solely to obtain your personal information or credit card numbers.
For more information about identity theft, including what to do if you're a victim, visit the U.S. Government's Web site on ID fraud: http://www.idtheft.gov.