Preventing Identity Theft

Taking steps now to prevent identity theft is much easier and less-time consuming than recovery. To reduce the chances of becoming a victim of identity theft, take some of the following measures:

Review Your Credit Report

You should check your credit reports for fraudulent activity on an annual basis at a minimum. You can also receive one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), once per year through the Annual Credit Report Request Service. You can obtain all three reports at once or stagger your requests throughout the year. If you believe you were a victim of identity theft, you are entitled to additional free reports (contact the credit bureaus directly for this service). If you are not currently eligible for free reports, you can purchase them from the credit bureaus for a fee.

When you obtain your reports, look over them carefully for balances that do not seem correct, accounts you never opened, or anything else that might seem suspicious. Dispute inaccurate information with the bureaus immediately and contact the involved creditors.

Guard Your Personal Information

When someone asks you for your information, never hesitate to ask questions or say, “no” if you are uncomfortable. You should only provide personal data when you know how it will be used, if you are sure the person/company is legitimate or you are the one who initiated contact.

Check Your Statements

Know your billing cycles, and be sure to review your statements for credit cards, utilities, checking and savings accounts, and other accounts when they are issued. If you see any charges you did not authorize, contact the company immediately. Also, contact them if you don’t receive your statement when you are supposed to.

Minimize and Protect Your Mail

Try to reduce the amount of mail you receive containing sensitive information. Many credit card companies, banks, credit unions, utility providers, and other institutions allow you to elect to receive paperless statements electronically.

Since you may not be able to completely stop the flow of mail containing personal information, be sure to empty your mailbox promptly and not let it sit there for a day or two. If you are going on vacation and there is no one available to pick up your mail, you can request a vacation hold with the post office.

Avoid a False Sense of Security

It is easy to have a sense of security in your home, work, place of worship, or other familiar spot, but keep in mind that many times people are victimized by someone they know. (And of course, there may be strangers passing through as well.) Never leave your wallet, statements, or portable electronic devices out in plain sight.

Only Carry With You What You Need

If your wallet or bag is stolen, the less you have in it, the less information will be susceptible to theft. Most people do not need to carry a Social Security card or checkbook, both of which could compromise your personal information.

Dispose Carefully

If you are disposing of a statement or documents containing personal information, make sure to shred everything before placing it in the trash. Do the same for pre-qualification offers or opt out of receiving them all together.

Protect Your Computer and Smartphone

Use a firewall and anti-virus/anti-spyware software to reduce your computer’s vulnerability to hackers. Make sure all of your passwords are hard to guess by using a complex combination of numbers and upper and lower case letters. Log off when you leave the room, and don’t leave portable devices unattended. Before disposing of your computer or smartphone, be sure to delete personal information using a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.

When shopping online, make sure to use a secure browser. Only enter personal and financial information to webpages that display a lock icon in the URL and begin with https:// which will ensure that your online session is authenticated, encrypted, and the authenticity of the server has been verified. Don’t send sensitive personal information via e-mail or download files or open hyperlinks sent by people you don't know.

Consider Extra Protection – Carefully

If you are exceptionally concerned about the possibility of identity theft, you may consider paying for credit monitoring or identity theft insurance – but do so only after carefully reading the fine print and weighing the cost against the benefits. Research the company's history and check the Better Business Bureau's complaint log before signing up.

  • Credit monitoring. A credit monitoring service typically provides regular credit report updates about new inquiries, new accounts, late payments, sudden changes in your credit card balances, and other potentially suspicious activity. You may also be able to access your credit report whenever you want at no additional cost. 
  • Identity theft insurance. If you become victimized by identity theft, this type of insurance reimburses you for the out-of-pocket expenses incurred to recover (but not the money that was stolen) and helps you through the process of contacting creditors, writing affidavits, and filing reports