PROTECTING YOUR IDENTITY
PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM IDENTITY THEFT/CONSUMER FRAUD
Identity theft crimes are on the rise, causing nationwide concern. Your personal identifying information can be accessed in an increasing variety of ways. An imposter can use your information to open fraudulent credit card accounts, secure deposits on cars and housing, obtain employment opportunities, create insurance benefit and rob retirement earnings. This form of financial sabotage can devastate your credit and require endless hours of telephone and written communication to resolve. In the meantime, you may experience difficulty writing checks, obtaining loans, renting apartments and even being hired.
Unfortunately, the responsibility of identifying and resolving the consequences of identity theft is left largely to the victim. It is important to act quickly and assertively to minimize the damage to your credit reputation. While identity theft is a crime, the perpetrator is often difficult to track. In addition, law enforcement officials cannot “clean up” the havoc created for you. When dealing with the authorities and financial institutions, keep a log of all conversations, including dates of contact, names and telephone numbers. Keep notes on the time spent and any expenses incurred. Confirm all conversations of those spoken with in writing. Send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of all letters and documents.
- Do not divulge your personal information or credit card number to anyone over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the call.
- Avoid having additional personal information such as your driver's license number, middle name or phone number printed on your checks.
- Avoid carrying all your credit cards, your Social Security card, passport, or birth certificate in your wallet or purse at all times. Carry these only when needed.
- Use discretion as to when you carry your medical health cards. These may contain personal information and some may have your Social Security number as an identification number.
- Protect your Social Security number, especially the last four digits, by not releasing it to anyone unless required by law.
- When creating passwords or PINs, avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your date of birth, or your phone number.
- Always use a cross-cut shredder to shred credit cards, credit card receipts, ATM transactions, bank checks and pre-approved credit cards, credit applications, insurance forms, and business statements.
- Secure your personal information, if you have roommates or outside help or are having work done in your home.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors, if your bills don't arrive on time.
- Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered.
- Verify your personal records are kept in a secure location at your place of employment.
- Request a credit report annually.
The above tips were gathered from various fraud prevention agencies.
For more information about protecting yourself from Identity Theft or Fraud, please visit the PA State Police Prevention Guidelines (PDF).