Valuable tips to protect your identity
We have all established our individual identities.
However, some people are not satisfied with their own--they want to take yours.
Identity theft has become a common problem in the United States with an estimated 9 million people affected annually, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
At no charge to you, Church Mutual now includes identity theft recovery coverage in its Series A and Series E multi-peril policies. However, it is best to prevent the problem in the first place. Here are important tips to protect your identity.
THIEVES' MODUS OPERANDI
Thieves take creativity to new levels, accomplishing their goals in a variety of ways:
Around Your Home
- Mailbox theft - Especially common after year-end, when such documents are mailed, identity thieves steal preapproved credit card offers, tax information or stock brokerage and bank and credit card statements.
In another twist, thieves steal pieces of mail you have left out for the carrier and learn your name, address, account numbers, and even how you sign your checks. They open a new account elsewhere and have statements sent to another address.
- Change of address - Thieves take it upon themselves to file a form with the U.S. Post Office, diverting your mail to another location to steal your personal information.
- Internal Revenue Service - Someone mails you a bogus IRS form that you are asked to complete and return with your personal information so they can process your refund.
- Dumpster divers - Posing as people out for a stroll, thieves rummage through your garbage when it is out for pickup, removing documents with your personal information.
- Workers - Domestic help or contractors enter your home with your permission and collect social security numbers and other personal information from documents you have left lying around unsecured.
On the Phone
- Charitable appeals - A person calls, claiming to be with a reputable charity, and requests a donation. They ask for your credit card and other personal information.
- Refinancing offers - A bank or refinance company calls offering you a great rate. You are asked innocent questions at first, followed by someone asking for your social security number so they can check your credit in order to get the most favorable refinance rate.
- Spousal problems - Thieves call during the day, posing as a credit card issuer, to inform you that your husband or wife has a payment that is overdue. Playing on your guilt and embarrassment, they request personal information to resolve the problem.
- Tax refunds - You get a call from someone who claims that you are entitled to a significant tax refund — they just need your credit card number to charge the nominal shipping expense and social security number to confirm the amount.
On the Internet
- Email phishing - Someone posing as your provider sends you a note offering to upgrade your service. The email has a link to a website that looks identical to the one your provider uses. You are asked to enter your personal information. Thieves then use the data to open new accounts and make purchases.
- Hacking around - Identity thieves hack websites containing your personal information or account numbers, such as catalogue companies. They use that information to create new accounts.
Out and About
- Skimming - A waiter or other service person at a business where you are making a credit card purchase passes it through a small electronic device that copies the magnetic strip and other details. These are later transferred to a machine that makes a fake card.
- Credit checks - Posing as your employer, landlord or someone else with a legitimate reason, identity thieves request firms with your records to supply your social security number or other personal information.
- Inside job - A co-worker in human resources or payroll with access to your personal information sells it to identity thieves who use it to create a new you and new accounts in your name at another address.
- Shoulder surfers - Thieves watch from a nearby location as you punch your telephone calling card or credit card information into a telephone, computer or ATM machine.
Although your personal information is everywhere and there is no guarantee you will never be a victim of identity theft, there are practical steps you can take to reduce the risk:
TIPS TO COMBAT THE THREATS
- Order your credit report - Contact Equifax, Experian and TransUnion annually. Check the reports for accuracy and indications of fraud. Check identifying information such as your name, address, and social security number.
- Guard your social security number - Store your card in a secure place. Use it only when necessary such as on tax forms, employment records, banking, etc. Do not have it printed on your checks and do not supply it to merchants who want to write it on your checks. Check your social security earnings and benefits statement each year to ensure that no one is using your number for employment.
- Protect your mail - Mail outgoing bills from post office boxes. Pay attention to billing cycles and keep track of incoming mail — particularly tax forms, pay stubs, credit card bills and bank statements. If you do not receive them on time, call to find when they were mailed. Pick up new checks at the bank rather than having them mailed to your home. Have the post office hold the mail if you are away.
- Destroy documents at disposal - Shred ATM receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements. Destroy expired credit cards or credit offers you receive in the mail.
- Shop warily online - Use only a credit card — not a debit card. Designate a single, distinct credit card with a low limit specifically for online shopping. Use a secure browser, looking for the lock symbols in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. Look for the words "Secure Sockets Layer" or "SSL" in the merchant's privacy statement. Never send payment information via email.
- Practice safe computing - Update your virus and spyware protection software regularly. Download and install security patches for your operating system or browser. Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection that leaves your computer connected 24 hours a day. Before you dispose of a computer, use a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive and make files with personal information unrecoverable.
- Pick personal identification numbers (PINs) carefully - Do not use a part of your social security number. Do not use anything a thief could deduce such as birth dates, address, telephone number, consecutive numbers, pet's name or mother's maiden name. Memorize your PINs — do not write them down. When in retail establishments or at an ATM, shield the PIN pad when entering your number.
- Lock important documents - Put all documents with personal or account information under lock and key in your home. While at work, always keep your purse or wallet in a locked drawer. Carry only those credit cards you need.
Record your credit and bank account information - Make a list of or photocopy all of your credit and debit cards, including the numbers, expiration dates, credit limits, and phone numbers of customer service and fraud departments. Safeguard these lists.