No one is immune to identity theft, but a little knowledge about how identity thieves operate – and a little common sense – can help you stay a step ahead of them.
- Thieves don’t need your credit card number in order to steal it. Conversely, they don’t need your credit card in order to steal your identity. Identity thieves are crafty; sometimes all they need is one piece of information about you and they can easily gain access to the rest.
- The nonfinancial personal information you reveal online is often enough for a thief. Beware of seemingly innocent personal facts that a thief could use to steal your identity. For example, never list your full birth date on Facebook or any other social-networking website. And don’t list your home address or telephone number on any website you use for personal or business reasons, including job-search sites.
- Be careful with your postal mail. Follow your billing cycles closely and if a credit card or other bill hasn’t arrived, it may mean an identity thief has gotten into your account and changed your billing address. Never place outgoing mail in your mailbox or door slot for a carrier to pick up. Anyone can grab it and get your credit card numbers and other financial information. Take it to the post office yourself.
- Review all bank and credit card statements each month, preferably once a week. Watch for charges of less than a dollar or two from unfamiliar companies or individuals. Thieves who are planning to purchase a block of stolen credit card numbers often first test to check that the accounts haven’t been canceled by aware customers by sending a small charge through, sometimes for only a few pennies.
- If an ATM or store terminal looks funny, don’t use it. If it looks or feels different when you swipe your card, or has an extra piece of plastic sticking out from the card slot, it may be a skimmer, an electronic device placed there by thieves that captures your credit card information when you swipe it. If you notice it after you’ve already inserted your card, you should alert your bank so they can watch for any fraudulent charges to your account.
- Identity thieves love travelers and tourists. Be cautious of strangers hovering around whenever you are using a credit card or debit card at an ATM or phone, and avoid public wireless Internet connections unless their laptops or PDAs have beefed-up security protection.
- Identity thieves are sneaky; you need to be sneaky, too. Sign your credit card with a Sharpie so your signature can’t be erased and written over.
- Pay attention at the checkout line. If a cashier or salesperson takes your card and either turns away from you or takes too long to conduct what is usually a normal transaction, she may be scaning your card into a handheld skimming terminal to harvest the information.
- Go paperless in as many ways as possible with your finances and bills. Most companies offer secure eStatements or paperless statements which also has the added bonus of an environmental benefit. Any paper receipts and financial statements you do receive should go through a shredder instead of into the wastebasket.
- Identity theft insurance can pay off, but you need to read the fine print. Several companies offer identity theft insurance, which covers the money you shell out to repair your identity. This includes the amount you spend on phone calls, making copies of documents and mailing them, hiring an attorney, and in some cases, lost wages. However, the insurance – which costs about $50 a year – does not reimburse you for funds you lost. Your current homeowners policy may include identity theft insurance in your package, so check first before signing up with an outside company. Also, some companies are now offering identity theft insurance as an employee benefit.
This article was published in the Founders FCU's Transaction Newsletter (July 2011). Article from creditcards.com