9 tips to prevent identity theft

October 17th, 2011 Sue Armbrecht

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing types of financial fraud. Without even touching your wallet, a thief can steal your financial identity with as little information as your Social Security number. To help raise awareness about this growing issue, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling proclaimed Oct. 16-22 “National Protect Your Identity Week.”

To help commemorate National Protect Your Identity Week, we’ve put together 9 tips to help avoid having your identity compromised:

1. Protect your computer by installing up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware protection, using a firewall when you browse the Internet and encrypting and safeguarding portable devices and documents.

2. Protect your personal information by opting for electronic delivery of your financial statements and other bills and shredding paper documents with personal information before disposing of them. Review your monthly accounts regularly for unauthorized charges.

3. Create strong passwords and keep them in a safe place. Never share your passwords with anyone, avoid using easy-to-guess common words or your personal information, change your password every 90 days and use a different password for each online account you create.

4. Avoid fraudulent websites and only use legitimate sources to contact financial institutions, such as an official website or the telephone number listed on statements and on the back of bank or credit cards. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock key icon is active.

5. Keep an eye out for any missing mail, particularly account statements and bills that do not arrive when expected. Report missing statements and bills to your financial services provider issuing them.

6. Be wary of emails, phone calls or text messages that may look as though they come from a legitimate company like your bank or the IRS, asking you to update your personal information. This is called phishing, a technique used by identity thieves to steal your personal information. Scammers are increasingly using sophisticated technology that allows their number to appear as a legitimate business. Always verify that the sender of the message is legitimate. Do not return calls or text back with your personal information, and don’t give out your Social Security number or other personal credit information to anyone who contacts you.

7. Protect your information on social networking sites, and restrict who can access your pages using built-in privacy settings. It’s important to avoid revealing the type of information an identity thief would find useful, such as family names, pet names, travel plans, your home address, school, employers, etc.

8. Order free copies of your credit report once a year from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies to ensure accuracy. Go to the Federal Trade Commission’s authorized website www.annualcreditreport.com for your free credit report.

9. Report any suspected fraud to your bank and the fraud units of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies immediately. The fraud unit numbers are:

  • Equifax: (800) 525-6285
  • Experian: (888) 397-3742
  • TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Sue Armbrecht

About the author

Sue Armbrecht is Market President at MidWestOne Bank. She helps customers manage their personal finances and identify effective money management solutions.

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