Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

Identity theft comes in many forms
and faces, and can hit anyone at any time.  Believe it or not
small children can be victims of identity theft if they have a Social Security number.  It
doesn’t matter what your social economic status is; if you have any
credit, or any credit card, a sophisticated identity thief can help
themselves to some luxuries on you.  Below are some ways to
avoid identity theft:

1. Never give out your social security number on the phone or
over the Internet unless you have an existing relationship with
that person or business. Thieves need only one piece of information
about you such as your social security or birth date; they don’t
need a credit card to obtain a credit report and then gather
additional information about you.  

2. Birthdates, home addresses and social security numbers don’t
belong on social media.  Because social media has grown so
much and is widely accepted as a form of communication over the
last few years, nonfinancial information is easily accessible on
social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 
Be careful and think twice before you put your personal information
on social media sites. 

3. Notice when your credit card statements
arrive each month (they come the same time every month) and when
your current credit or debit card expires.  Most banks begin
to send renewed cards in the month before the expiration, so be
expecting a new card. Identity thieves can intercept credit cards
or bills to change the billing address and rack up charges on your
credit card before you realize it was stolen.

4. If a bank sends you courtesy checks and you are not planning
on using the checks, tear them up or shred them.  A thief can
pick them out of your garbage and sign for the
money.    

5. Review your bank and credit card statements carefully for
small charges.  Thieves often test out the account by charging
a small amount, even a few pennies, before making a larger
purchase.  Fraud alerts are generally not activated by
purchases under a certain dollar amount. 

6. Review your credit report regularly.  You are entitled
to ONE FREE COPY of each of your three credit
reports every twelve (12) months by accessing the website 
www.annualcreditreport.com
or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

7. If an ATM does not look right, do not use it.  If the
card feels differently after you swipe it or the machine looks
unusual, avoid the machine or immediately cancel the
transaction.  There could be a credit card skimmer attached to
the ATM.  Skimmers are electronic devices placed in the card
slot by thieves.  The skimmers capture your card information
when you swipe it.  Also, look for any oddly placed
cameras.  While it is normal for a security camera to face the
person using the ATM, it is not normal for a camera to face the
card slot. 

8. Pay attention when you pay with a credit card – especially at
restaurants or other places where the card is removed from your
sight.  Be aware if too much time is taken or if the customer
in line behind you is looking over your shoulder.  If the
purchase seems suspicious in any way, check your statements for
unusual activity.  Look to see if the waiter has a device on
their belt where they can swipe the card. 

9. Become friendly with a shredder and consider going
paperless.  If possible, get your monthly financial statements
and bills sent to you electronically.  Shred all documents
that contain personal and financial information. Shredders have
come down in price so purchasing one is an investment in
safeguarding your financial identity. 

10. Use cash for smaller purchases.  Many people have
become accustomed to using a credit or debit card for every
purchase, no longer using cash.  ATM charges, or the fear of
carrying cash, has more consumers opting for plastic instead. 
However, the more times that card is pulled out to swipe; the more
opportunities arise for a thief to obtain the information.  A
good rule of thumb is, on smaller purchases, use cash whenever
possible.