What can be done to prevent identity theft?Question: What can I do to protect myself and my family from identity theft?
By: By Alexandria Police Officer Jim Gripne, Alexandria Echo Press
Question: What can I do to protect myself and my family from identity theft?
Answer: Identity theft is something that everyone needs to be aware of and take steps to protect themselves against. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2008, 3,528 people reported being victims of identity theft in Minnesota alone. The number one category of identity theft was credit card fraud.
There are many steps people can take to protect their identity and keep their personal information from being stolen and misused. Following these steps can significantly lower the chances of your identity being stolen.
• Don’t just throw away important documents. These documents can include bills, real estate paperwork, bank paperwork, pre-approved credit card offers and similar items. Purchase a confetti paper shredder and shred all of these documents.
• Be aware of scams. If something sounds too good to be true, there is a high likelihood it is not true. You may receive a phone call, e-mail or letter saying you have won a prize. All you have to do is give the person on the other end your most important information like your social security number, credit card or bank account number and your birthday. Generally, you should know if you have entered a contest for a prize. If you didn’t enter any competition to win this prize, this is probably a fraud.
• Another important step is to protect your social security card. Do NOT carry this in your wallet or purse. This should be kept someplace safe and secure for you to access when you need it. The number of times a social security card is actually needed is very rare. So, carrying it with you makes identity theft quite easy when left in a wallet along with your ID and credit/debit cards. If someone takes your wallet or purse, they now have everything they need to steal your identity. Except when dealing with banks or when completing employment paperwork, you should be very hesitant to give this information to anyone.
• When ordering new check blanks, pick them up at your financial institution if possible rather than having them mailed to your residence. This reduces the number of opportunities for someone to steal the checks or gather account number and routing number information from the checks. Also, do not place bills or outgoing checks in your mailbox for the day, waiting to be picked up by the mail service. This gives thieves the chance to steal your checks and bills at one time. This type of mail should be delivered to the post office by you directly.
• If you are going to be out of town for any length of time and unable to get your mail, have the post office hold it for you until you return home. Or, you could have a trusted friend or relative get your mail for you and have them hang on to it until you return home.
Order your credit report once a year. This can be done through any of three credit bureaus. These are TransUnion at www.transunion.com, Equifax at www.equifax.com, or Experian at www.experian.com.
What do I do if I my identity is stolen?
Have a fraud alert placed on your credit reports and review the credit reports. This can be done through any one of three credit bureaus listed earlier. Close the accounts you know or believe have been tampered with or accessed. File a report with the law enforcement agency that covers the location of where the identity theft occurred and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Also, if the identity theft happened via stolen mail or similar, contact the United States Postal Inspector.
The Alexandria Police Department and the Echo Press have teamed together to create “Cop Talk, Ask the Alexandria Police Department.” Each article will feature an answer to a question from a reader, a safety tip or some timely topic. If you have a question about crime prevention or safety, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.