With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to keep in mind that with online purchases, packed shopping malls and busier personal schedules, the chances for falling victim to identity theft is something to be mindful about. There are some simple steps that you can take to avoid the headaches that come along with becoming a victim of identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a few simple precautions:
- Carry only essential documents – On any given day, do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, a birth certificate or passport with you outside the house unless they will be needed.
- Keep new checks out of the mail – When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, if possible, instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves.
- Be careful on the phone – Identity thieves may call, posing as banks or government agencies and asking for personal information. Do not give out credit card numbers of other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
- Your trash can be a thief’s treasure – Shred all receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, returned checks and any other sensitive information before throwing it away.
- Stay on top of your credit – Check credit card statements, be alert if a statement is missing, and make sure your credit reports are accurate. If possible, sign up for a credit monitoring service, which will alert you to any changes in your credit report.
- Keep a list of account numbers – In a safe place, such as a locked box, keep a list of your account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers. If your wallet is stolen, or a card is missing, you can quickly alert your creditors.
- Create complex passwords or PIN numbers – Using a random mix of letters or numbers makes it harder for identity thieves to discover the codes.
- Contact your credit/debit card company – Do so immediately and report the card(s) as lost/stolen. They should be able to let you know if it has been used fraudulently, and many times will be able to refund the money to you so long as you provide them later with the case number given to you by the local authorities (see below).
- File a report with the local police department – While this isn’t cause to call 911, do be sure you have the non-emergency number on hand to make the report. For the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the number is 703-777-1021. Many agencies, including the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, you can even file your report online which saves time and get’s you your case number immediately!
- Lock your credit – Contact the three credit bureau agencies, Experian, TransUnion, Equifax. You can request a 90-day lock on your credit so that no one has the ability to open new lines of credit using your personal information.
- Monitor your credit report – Be sure to take advantage of the free annual credit report that you are entitled by law to receive. Check it over to make sure you recognize all the activity on the report.
Written in part By Barbara Pronin and Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.