Identity Theft – How to Protect Yourself

It’s been said that everyone has a “twin” somewhere in the world. If you’re a nice person, you probably wouldn’t mind meeting someone as wonderful as yourself. Yet each year over 300,000 people in the United States find out the hard way that they have and “evil twin” and the experience is anything but wonderful.

It might be the moment they are turned down for a loan. It may be the moment they read their credit report and see charges they didn’t make on accounts they don’t have with companies they’ve never heard of. It’s called “identity theft” and it’s a very real problem.

The news stories are becoming more common. A married couple with excellent credit is turned down for a home loan. Their credit report says there are 20 credit cards in their name, all of them charged to the limit. The problem is, they never applied for the cards, let alone used them. Though federal law limits a consumer’s credit card liability to $50 in the event of fraud, the real damage is to one’s credit history. While your financial liability is limited, the burden is on your shoulders to correct the problems on your credit report.

When your identity has been stolen, tracking down the thief is difficult and maybe impossible. Technology is creating new methods of protection against identity theft. But until every transaction you make is secured with encryption devices or eye and fingerprint scans, here are some practical tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

  • If you’re not using a particular credit card, cancel it. Cutting it up with a scissors keeps you from using it but the open account information is still available to an identity thief. Call the credit card company and request your account be closed. Send a written request as well and check your credit report 30 days later to be certain it shows the account was closed.
  • Don’t carry official “identity documents” with you. Should you lose or misplace them, a Social Security card, passport or birth certificate is more than enough for an identity thief to become your evil twin.
  • Shred, don’t tear, all financial documents before throwing them away. This includes credit card receipts, canceled checks, left over checks from old bank accounts, old tax records, credit card statements and receipts, automatic teller deposit and withdrawal slips.
  • Shred the unsolicited pre-approved credit card offers you receive in the mail. Even if you don’t want them, an identity thief would like to have them. They might be junk mail to you but treat them like financial documents and shred before throwing them away.
  • Don’t give out financial information over the phone unless you’re certain that the person/company you are speaking with is legitimate and that the information is absolutely necessary. This includes your Social Security number, bank account information, credit card numbers or your mother’s maiden name.
  • When your credit card statement arrives in the mail, verify the purchases listed are truly yours. If someone has stolen your card number you need to know sooner than later.
  • When writing a check, if a cashier or clerk wants additional information, never allow them to write your credit card number on the check.
  • If your credit card or ATM bank debit card has expired and your new one hasn’t arrived, call your bank and/or credit card company. Why? Someone may have taken yours out of your mailbox.
  • Memorize the PIN (Personal Identification Number) numbers to your cards. Never write them down or carry them in your purse or wallet. Be creative and cryptic with your PIN. Avoid easy to guess passwords that anyone could find out (like the name of your dog or one of your children.) Avoid obvious number sequences like “1234” or “7777” and never use a number that includes part of your Social Security number.
  • Don’t carry lots of credit cards. You don’t need more than a couple. The more cards you have, the greater exposure you have to an identity thief.
  • When you mail letters and bills, drop them in a official Post Office box. Never leave outgoing mail, especially paid bills, in your home mailbox for the letter carrier to pick up. An identity thief could steal them.
  • Consider installing a secured mail drop at your home.
  • When ordering new checks, arrange to pick them up at the bank instead of having them mailed to your home.
  • Order credit reports once a year from one of the three main credit-reporting agencies: Equifax 800-525-6285; Experian 800-301-7195; Trans Union 800-680-7289. If you see accounts that you didn’t apply for, report them immediately.
  • By calling any of the three main credit bureaus, you can have your name removed from the lists that are sold to organizations who offer pre-approved credit cards.

Don’t give an identity thief the opportunity to become your “evil twin”!

Credit Bureau – Credit Reports

The three major credit bureaus have web sites containing information about credit reporting and related topics. You can contact the three major credit bureaus at:

Trans Union:

Remember…credit bureaus only know what lenders tell them. Be sure what’s being reported about you is accurate. Review your credit report once a year!