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Identity Theft

With the proliferation of the internet, online shopping has grown exponentially, and along with it, credit card fraud. Despite the dangers, credit card numbers are passing through more hands than ever, increasing the chances of theft. Social Security numbers are also at a greater risk of being stolen. If a criminal can match your name with your social security number, they hold the keys to your credit future. They can open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, access personal and medical information, and even apply for a job.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, you need to act quickly. Immediately obtain a current copy of your credit report. Inspect it for fraudulent activity. If you find that you are a victim of credit fraud, contact the fraud hotlines of the 3 credit bureaus:

Equifax 1-800-525-6285
Experian 1-800-301-7195
Trans Union 1-800-680-7289

Protect Yourself

Review your credit report at least once a year and pursue any suspicious or inaccurate activity. Since you are entitled to a free report annually from each of the 3 major credit bureaus, you can stagger your requests, ordering a credit report every 4 months from a different bureau. This enables you to keep a closer watch on your history.

Don’t print your social security or credit card number on your checks, or give them out to anyone, unless it is absolutely necessary.

Always opt to have your social security number hidden except for the last four digits when ordering your credit report.

Watch for suspicious activity of a clerk when handing over your credit card. If at all possible, don’t let them leave with your card.

Don’t EVER enter your personal information onto a website that does not have SSL (secure socket layer) encryption. SSL prevents the interception of your information as it is transmitted from your computer to another website. You can tell if you are entered into a secured layer by the key or padlock icon at the bottom of your browser screen. Another indicator is to look at the website address. If there is an https (instead of an http), you are on a secured layer. The more reputable online retailers will display a seal certifying that their shopping cart is a safe place to enter your credit card info.

Invest in a personal paper shredder. They are inexpensive and readily available at department, office or electronic stores. Shred all new credit card offers you receive in the mail before throwing them out. It is very easy to find out a wealth of personal information about you just by going through a bag of your garbage…a relatively small price to pay for the average identity thief.

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