Whether they're snatching your purse, diving into your dumpster, stealing your mail, or hacking into your computer, they're out to get you. Who are they? Identity thieves. Click here to read part one of this article which looks at four additional preventative measures.
When you toss it, shred it
Before you throw out any financial records such as credit or debit card receipts and statements, cancelled checks, or even offers for credit you receive in the mail, shred the documents, preferably with a cross-cut shredder. If you don't, you may find the panhandler going through your dumpster was looking for more than discarded leftovers.
Keep a low profile
The more your personal information is available to others, the more likely you are to be victimized by identity theft. While you don't need to become a hermit in a cave, there are steps you can take to help minimize your exposure:
- To stop telephone calls from national telemarketers, list your telephone number with the ederal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry by calling (888) 382-1222 or registering online at www.donotcall.gov
- To remove your name from most national mailing and e-mailing lists, as well as most telemarketing lists, write the Direct Marketing Association at 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700, or register online at www.dmachoice.org
- To remove your name from marketing lists prepared by the three national consumer reporting agencies, call (888) 567-8688 or register online at www.optoutprescreen.com
- When given the opportunity to do so by your bank, investment firm, insurance company, and credit card companies, opt out of allowing them to share your financial information with other organizations
- You may even want to consider having your name and address removed from the telephone book and reverse directories
Take a byte out of crime
Whatever else you may want your computer to do, you don't want it to inadvertently reveal your personal information to others. Take steps to help assure that this won't happen.
Install a firewall to prevent hackers from obtaining information from your hard drive or hijacking your computer to use it for committing other crimes. This is especially important if you use a high-speed connection that leaves you continuously connected to the Internet. Moreover, install virus protection software and update it on a regular basis.
Try to avoid storing personal and financial information on a laptop; if it's stolen, the thief may obtain more than your computer. If you must store such information on your laptop, make things as difficult as possible for a thief by protecting these files with a strong password–one that's six to eight characters long, and that contains letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols.
"If a stranger calls, don't answer." Opening e-mails from people you don't know, especially if you download attached files or click on hyperlinks within the message, can expose you to viruses, infect your computer with "spyware" that captures information by recording your keystrokes, or lead you to "spoofs" (websites that replicate legitimate business sites) designed to trick you into revealing personal information that can be used to steal your identity.
If you wish to visit a business's legitimate website, use your stored bookmark or type the URL address directly into the browser. If you provide personal or financial information about yourself over the Internet, do so only at secure websites; to determine if a site is secure, look for a URL that begins with "https" (instead of "http") or a lock icon on the browser's status bar.
And when it comes time to upgrade to a new computer, remove all your personal information from the old one before you dispose of it. Using the "delete" function isn't sufficient to do the job; overwrite the hard drive by using a "wipe" utility program. The minimal cost of investing in this software may save you from being wiped out later by an identity thief.
As the grizzled duty sergeant used to say on a televised police drama, "Be careful out there." The identity you save may be your own.
Have questions about how to protect against identity theft? Post a comment below or contact our Financial Services Group at 440-449-6800.