When it comes to identity theft, you can't entirely control whether you will become a victim or not. It is among the fastest growing crimes in the country. The results can be financially and psychologically devastating to the victim. But, there are certain steps you can take to minimize your risk.
Think twice before providing personal information
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves are clever, and have posed as representatives of credit unions, banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information.
Treat your mail and trash carefully
Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, complete the U.S. Postal Service Online Form to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
Don't carry your Social Security card with you. Leave your card in a secure place and only give out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary. Before giving out your number ask if other types of identifiers would work. If your state uses your Social Security number on your driver's license, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your number as your policy number.
Order a copy of your credit report. An amendment to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. To order your free annual report from one or all the national consumer reporting companies:
Source: Federal Trade Commission. For more information and helpful tips, visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft/.