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Protect Your Identity and Steps to Prevent ID Theft

A few things you can do on your own to protect yourself.

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It’s important to protect your identity. But with the growing number of data breaches, it’s becoming more difficult to keep your personal information safe. According to the FTC’s “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book,” the most common fraud complaints last year were imposter scams, debt collection, and identity theft.

Often, identity thieves will use another person’s personal information, such as a Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, date of birth, or account number to open fraudulent new credit card accounts, charge existing credit card accounts, write share drafts, open share accounts, or obtain new loans.

They may obtain this information by:

  • Stealing wallets that contain personal identification information and credit cards.
  • Stealing credit union statements from the mail.
  • Diverting mail from its intended recipients by submitting a change of address form.
  • Rummaging through trash for personal data.
  • Stealing personal identification information from workplace records.
  • Intercepting or otherwise obtaining information transmitted electronically.

While using an identity theft protection service is the best way to protect your identity, there a few things you can do on your own.

  1. Check your credit report every month. Monitoring your credit report on a regular basis is kind of like getting a physical from your doctor – you may not realize there is anything wrong until you look.
  2. Check your credit card statements. Do so each month to make sure you recognize the charges.
  3. Keep a close eye on your mail. Familiarize yourself with your billing cycles and never leave bill payments inside your mailbox. Criminals may steal your mail and change your address.

Other ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

  • Take care of where you share and provide your personal information
  • Store sensitive documents in a secure place
  • Shred any unneeded documents that contain personal, sensitive information
  • Limit your use of email to send and share personal information

Be proactive and use free credit monitoring services that alert you of changes found in your credit report. Many of these services provide access to free credit scores along with identity theft protection insurance.

Steps to Prevent Identity Theft

Here are a few basic steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft and pretext calling:

Don’t fall for pretext calling

Pretext calling is a fraudulent means of obtaining a person’s personal information. Pretext callers may contact credit union employees, posing as members, to access members’ personal account information. Information obtained from pretext calling may be sold to debt collection services, attorneys, and private investigators to use in court proceedings. Identity thieves may also engage in pretext calling to obtain personal information to create fraudulent accounts.

Do not share personal information

Such as account numbers or social security numbers, over the telephone, through the mail, or over the Internet, unless you initiated the contact or know with whom you are dealing.

Store personal information in a safe place

Tear up old credit card receipts, ATM receipts, old account statements, and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.

Protect your PINs and other passwords

Avoid using easily available information such as your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your phone number, as identity thieves can use this information to access your accounts.

Carry only the minimum amount

Minimize the amount of identifying information and the number of credit cards that you carry and bring with you

Pay attention to billing cycles and statements

Contact the credit union if you do not receive a monthly bill. It may mean that the bill has been diverted by an identity thief.

Check account statements carefully

Ensure all charges, share drafts, or withdrawals you authorized.

Guard your mail against theft

f you have the type of mailbox with a flag to signal that the box contains mail, do not leave bill payment envelopes in your mailbox with the flag up. Instead, deposit them in a post office collection box or at the local post office. Promptly remove incoming mail.

Get a copy of your free credit report

Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each credit reporting bureau annually. The credit reporting bureaus may charge a fee for a consumer’s credit score or additional reports during a year.

If you prefer not to receive pre-approved offers of credit, you can opt-out of such offers by calling (888) 5-OPT-OUT.

If you want to remove your name from many national direct mail lists, send your name and address to:

DMA Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

If you want to reduce the number of telephone solicitations from many national marketers, send your name, address, and telephone number to:

DMA Telephone Preference Service
P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014

If you discover you’re a victim, read how to respond to identity theft.

Jason Vitug

Jason is the founder of phroogal, creator of the award winning project Road to Financial Wellness, and author of the bestseller and New York Times reviewed book, You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

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