Don’t wait until identity theft occurs before getting all your information together. Follow these tips now and be prepared just in case it happens.
WHN TIP – If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, go to Identity Theft – Get Help section.
Catalog Your Card Info
Photocopy every card (credit, debit, all insurance, Social Security, all IDs, and driver’s license) in your wallet: front and back.
On the photocopy, write the card’s toll-free help number by the front of each card.
Keep a complete up-to-date folder in a safe place at home and at work, noting the most recent date the information was compiled.
Keep these copies in your Master Information Box, a box that contains copies of your most important documents and records, photos and contact information.
Before you head out the door, take out “barely used” credit cards and store them in a safe place at home.
Don’t carry any important documents (birth certificate, Social Security card, passport) unless you need to.
Clean out your purse or wallet every month. This limits unnecessary data and you’ll have a better idea of losses to report to an insurance agent in case of theft. (Remember to update your folders!)
Don’t keep copies of your debit/ATM card PINs or receipts in your wallet, purse or vehicle.
Make sure your PDA, cell phone or other smart device is password-locked when not in use.
WHN TIP – Lost Cell Phone? If you lose your PDA or cell phone, you’ll lose all your contacts and information. Back up your device regularly and keep a copy of important numbers in case you lose power and have to use another phone.
WHN TIP – Cell Phone Serial Number. If your phone is stolen, call your phone company and provide them with the phone’s serial number. They will block your handset so even if the thief changes the SIM card, your phone will be totally useless. (Don’t know what it is? Read 2 Steps to Finding Your Cell Phone’s Serial Number to find out!)
Keep handbag, tote bag or briefcase closed, with one arm across it or with the strap crossing your body. Wear the strap under your jacket or sweater.
WHN TIP – Short Errand? If it’s a quick stop, leave your handbag at home and carry only essentials in your pocket. Keep an eye on your purse or wallet. Don’t leave it in a grocery cart, a changing room or on your work desk.
Check your credit reports once a year from any one of the three credit reporting agencies listed below. You are entitled to one free credit report per bureau per year. To order, go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you see anything that appears fraudulent, immediately put a fraud alert on your file. Then follow the instructions on IdentityTheft.gov website.
Questions? Call the credit bureaus directly:
Credit Card and Bank Statements
Make sure your bank, credit card companies, etc. have your current contact information. If unusual activity appears on your account, companies may attempt to contact you and verify the activity. If your number is disconnected or your address is incorrect, it may be too late to remedy the problem.
Place strong passwords (both letters and numbers) on computers as well as bank, investment and credit card accounts. Read Tips for Strong, Secure Passwords & Other Authentication Tools for more information.
Ask all financial institutions, doctor’s offices, etc., what they do with your private information and make sure that they shred it and protect it. Tell them why.
Mail and Packages
Don’t leave ingoing or outgoing mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends. If possible, get a post office box or a locked mailbox.
Shred all mail and magazine covers that have your address and account number displayed.
Destroy all identifying or sensitive information you don’t need with a shredder.
WHN TIP – Destroy Those Wristbands! Hospital wristbands hold identifying information. Don’t throw it into a public trash bin. Cut it up into tiny pieces at home, then throw it away.
Be careful when using and phone cards. “Shoulder Surfers” can get your PIN and access to your accounts. Read 5 ATM Safety Tips for more tips.
Match credit card receipts against monthly bills and check financial statements for accuracy. If there is anything that you do not recognize, call the credit grantor to verify that it is truly yours.
Haven’t used the card lately? Check it online anyway. Thieves may have accessed your information and possibly even changed your mailing address.
If possible, get credit cards with your picture on them.
Sign new credit cards before someone else does.
Do not put your address, telephone number, or driver’s license number on a credit card receipt.
Don’t leave receipts behind at ATMs, on counters at financial institutions, or at gasoline pumps. Bring them home, check against your statement then destroy if you don’t need the receipt to document purchases.
Get all of your checks delivered to your bank or your work address, not to your home address.
Do not put your telephone number on your checks, instead use your work number and address.
Don’t put account numbers on the outside of envelopes or on your checks.
Do not put checks in the mail from your home mailbox. Drop them off at a U.S. mailbox or post office.
WHN TIP – Reader Tip – Online Security. “Have a discussion with your family about online security. Consider setting guidelines about what information is allowed to be entered online.” Erik, Minnesota
Do not input your credit card or other financial account numbers at a Web site unless it offers a secure transaction. A secure or “encrypted” transaction will have these two features:
- An icon of a lock appears in the bottom strip of the Web browser page.
- The URL address for the Web page changes from “http” to “https” for the page at which you input the personal data.
If you get an e-mail asking you to go to a site and update your information, don’t do it. Internet thieves use this technique (often called “phishing”) to gather personal and financial information. Instead, call the company that allegedly sent the email to see if they really sent it. (Don’t call the company using the phone number provided in the suspicious email. Use the number on your card statement or on the back of your card.)
WHN TIP – Reader Tip – Two is Better Than One: “Consider having two e-mail addresses — one for personal use and another for Web site promotions and consumer activities. It’ll be a lot easier to sort through the spam.” Erik, Minnesota
Buy a crosscut-type shredder and shred old credit card receipts, mailers and financial info in your name (pre-approved credit applications) anything that gives access to private information.
Don’t feed “dumpster divers.” Shred – don’t throw – anything that could “become” you: items with identifiers such as Social Security number, address, account numbers, etc.
Telephone / Email Tips
If you get a call at home or the office from a stranger, never give out personal information (SSN or bank account numbers) even if the caller says he is from a legitimate agency. If you didn’t start the call, don’t give out the information. Instead, hang up and call them back at the number that you know is the true number. Provide only information that you believe is absolutely necessary.
Got a text or email saying an account has been compromised? Don’t reply. Instead, call the financial institution or credit card company directly using the telephone number on your statement or card.
Social Security Number (SSN) Tips
Protect your number: Do not put it on checks or credit receipts.
If a business requests your SSN, give them an alternate ID number and tell them why. If a government agency requests your SSN, there must be a privacy notice accompanying the request.
When you are asked to identify yourself at schools, employers, or any other kind of institution, ask to have an alternative to your SSN. Unfortunately, your health insurance carrier often uses your SSN as your identification number. Try to change that if you can. If not, be sure that any medical paperwork that lists that number is shredded before discarding.
Identity Theft Insurance
According to the Insurance Information Institute, “Identity theft insurance provides reimbursement to crime victims for the cost of restoring their identity and repairing credit reports. It generally covers expenses such as phone bills, lost wages, notary and certified mailing costs, and sometimes attorney fees (with the prior consent of the insurer). Some companies also offer restoration or resolution services that will guide you through the process of recovering your identity.”
Check with your insurance provider to see what products they offer, what your options are and how much it will cost.
Always ask your insurance provider for costs of coverage and discuss in detail the list of things you think are covered under this policy to be sure that what you think is covered actually is.
For More Information
for a list of regional telephone numbers or call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) (toll-free)
A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.