Don’t Be a Victim-Take Steps to Protect Your IdentityTuesday, October 18, 2011

CredAbility Offers Tips to Help Consumers Safeguard their Good Name
Protect Your Identity Week is October 16-22

Atlanta, GA — Tossing a credit card offer, using an ATM machine, or posting a status update on your Facebook page may all seem like ordinary tasks, but to an identity thief, these are opportunities to steal your identity and use it for their own benefit. Identity theft touched the lives of more than eight million consumers last year, with total theft exceeding $37 billion dollars. Identity theft topped the consumer complaint list at the Federal Trade Commission for the 11th consecutive year.

“We are all vulnerable to identity theft,” said Mechel Glass, director of education for CredAbility. “Protecting oneself requires consumers to use caution when conducting everyday business and take swift action if they think their information has been compromised.” While the time and resources to correct the damage done by identity thieves is on the decline, it can still take many hours and cost hundreds of dollars to restore your good name.

CredAbility suggests consumers take these steps to help safeguard their identity:

Protect your Personal Information

  • When conducting business online or over the phone, never share personal or financial information unless you have initiated contact and know who you are talking to.
  • Empty your wallet—take out credit cards that you don’t use regularly, Social Security cards or other cards that may contain your Social Security number, such as insurance cards. Once you minimize what you’re keeping in your wallet, photocopy both sides of everything and keep in a secure location for easy access in case your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • Checks – if possible, use a P.O. Box instead of your home address on checks. Never print your Social Security Number on checks. When you order checks or a new driver’s license, have them sent to the bank instead of your home.
  • Clean out your car and remove receipts and anything else containing personal information.
  • Clear Social Security Numbers from public records. Check your local Clerk of Court online records. If you have bought a home in the past, your records are there and your Social Security number could be visible. Make a request that this information be concealed in online copies of your records. Many Clerk of Court offices actively ensure this information is hidden but older public records may still be in need of this update.

Think Before You Post
A recent survey by Consumer Reports revealed that more than half of adult users of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have posted risky personal information online.

  • Check your online Social Networking Account privacy settings and limit what you share with others. Remove personal contact information, birth date, city of residence, and any other personal information from public view and consider removing it altogether.
  • Do not post vacation plans, or even plans for the day—these posts can alert a potential identity thief to when you will be gone and for how long. If you want to share, wait until after you have returned.
  • Choose your “friends” carefully. Don’t subscribe to the ‘more is better’ theory when it comes to social networks. Keeping your circle of friends small will significantly reduce your risk.
  • Monitor your kids’ activity. If you allow your children to be part of any social network, be sure that they are following these same guidelines.

Use Caution when Sending or Tossing Mail

  • Raising the flag on your mailbox signals identity thieves that there might be information to steal in the box. Checks provide thieves with your name, address and bank account information. Drop outgoing mail into a U.S. Mailbox or at the Post Office.
  • Shred everything, including unsolicited applications for credit cards and other loan products, and credit card receipts. If it has your personal information on it, it is always better to shred it before throwing it away.

Practice Internet Safety

  • Do not click on links in emails that ask you to “verify” personal information or passwords, even if they appear to be from your financial institution.
  • Do not save user names and passwords on your computer. Instead, enter them each time you access a site. Change passwords periodically and use strong passwords, such as those with a random combination of letters, numbers and characters) to minimize easy detection. Refrain from using birthdates, anniversaries and other easy to find numbers.
  • When shopping online, do not use debit cards or checks for purchases. Use credit cards, and be sure to look for the small lock on the bottom right hand corner of the screen or look at the url on your internet browser to ensure it begins with HTTPS// - these indicators reflect the purchase is being made over a secure server and that your information is encrypted to protect it.
  • Keep your virus protection software up-to-date, use a secure server to access the internet, and install a firewall to prevent thieves from “logging in” to your computer.,/li>

    Monitor your credit reports
    Unfortunately, by the time most consumers become aware that someone has gained credit in their name, it is too late to prevent the theft. But honest consumers can minimize the damage by knowing what’s in their credit report and reviewing it regularly for changes.

    Consumers can receive a free copy of their credit report every year. Request a copy of your report online at www.annualcreditreport.com, by calling 877.322.8228, or by mailing a request form to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. It is a good idea to request a copy from each of the three bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each compiles data slightly differently and one could include erroneous information not on the others.