Identity Theft First Aid Kit

General Security

Things to remember when securing your identity

There are many actions you can take on a day-to-day basis in securing your identity. Although you may not remember every one of these steps, reviewing this information will remind you to keep your personal information safe, and protected from identity thieves.

Change Account Numbers
Your account numbers can always be changed. If you feel that one of your bank or credit accounts has been compromised, contact your bank or creditor to change the account number. This applies to credit cards, bank accounts, utilities, cell phones, medical insurance, car insurance and anything else that may be linked to your money. Also, make sure that your account numbers do not contain any part of your Social Security number.


Choose Strong Passwords
Think about your passwords before you choose them. Don't pick one that another person may be able to guess easily. Also, don't forget to change your passwords periodically. You can never be too careful.

Put passwords on all your accounts and do not use your mother's maiden name. Make up a fictitious word. Memorize Social Security numbers and passwords, do not use the last four digits of your Social Security number, mother's maiden name, your birth date, middle name, pet's name, consecutive numbers or anything else that could easily be discovered by thieves. It's best to create passwords that combine letters, symbols and numbers.

Here's a tip to create a password that is strong and easy to remember. Think of a favorite line of poetry, like “Mary had a little lamb.” Use the first or last letters to create a password. Use numbers to make it stronger. For example, MHALL, or better yet MHA2L!. The longer the string, the harder it is to crack.


Request Secondary Passwords
Ask your creditor or bank to add an additional password to your account for an extra measure of security. Some may let you choose a secret question, to which you will provide the answer.

“What is your mother’s maiden name?” is the most frequently asked institutional question. This question as a security measure has become all too common. There are numerous internet resources that may disclose your family lineage to a third party without your consent. Because it is so easy to locate, a maiden name is likely to be a bad code-word.


Beware of Shoulder Surfing
Don't let anyone hear your password. If you are prompted to disclose a password verbally, do it in a safe environment where it cannot be overheard. Whenever you enter you personal PIN number block it from the view of others. There are people or illegal recording devices ready to steal your private information. It only takes one error on your part to compromise an account and potentially grant access to an unauthorized user.


Protect Your Purse/Wallet
Consider a fully-zippering style purse. For additional safety use an interior zipper or hook to secure your wallet and identification to the inside of the bag. When carrying a purse always keep it under your arm and close to your body.


Take Extra Precaution With Credit Cards
It's always a good idea to sign the back of your credit or debit cards with "see ID" or "See Photo ID". This will help ensure that someone else cannot use your card without also having a valid ID. It will prompt the clerk to ask you for your identification to make sure that you are the person named on the credit card. Getting credit cards that include your photo are also an extra security precaution for preventing your credit cards from being used fraudulently.


Don’t Carry Too Much Info
Empty your wallet of all extra credit cards and social security numbers, etc. Do not carry any identifiers you do not need. Don't carry your birth certificate, social security card, or passport, unless necessary. Reduce the number of credit and debit cards you carry in your wallet. We recommend that you do not use debit cards because of the potential for losses to your checking account. Instead, carry one or two credit cards and your ATM card in your wallet. Nonetheless, debit cards are popular. If you do use them, take advantage of online access to your bank account to monitor account activity frequently. Report any evidence of fraud to your financial institution immediately.


Only Give Out Information to a Verified Party
When a person calls you at home or at work, and you do not know this person, never give out any of your personal information. If they tell you they are a credit grantor with which you do business, call them back at the number that you know is the true number and ask to be connected to the calling party. Provide only information that you believe is absolutely necessary. Never give out your Social Security number, credit or debit card number or other personal information over the phone, by mail, or on the Internet unless you have a trusted business relationship with the company and you have initiated the call.

Identity thieves have been known to call their victims with a fake story that goes something like this. "Today is your lucky day! You have been chosen by the Publishers Consolidated Sweepstakes to receive a free trip to the Bahamas. All we need is your Social Security number, credit card number and expiration date to verify you as the lucky winner."


Keep Your Social Security Number Private
Ask to have an alternative to your Social Security number if you are asked to identify yourself at schools, employers, or any other kind of institution.

Unfortunately, your health insurance carrier often uses your social security number as your identification number. Try to change that if you can.

If a government agency requests your social security number, there must be a privacy notice accompanying the request.


Monitor Your Statements
Check the details of transactions from every credit card every month. Make sure that there is nothing that you do not recognize and call the credit grantor if you see anything suspicious. Do the same with all of your debit card and bank statements, as well.


Review Your Personal Reports
Your credit reports can provide “early warning signs” of identity theft. Check the “Inquiries” section to make sure that only those companies you have authorized to do so are requesting your credit report. Also, check the account history section for unfamiliar accounts. In addition to credit reports, other national and local databases may contain inaccurate – or false – information about you. This includes criminal and court records, medical data, “No-Fly” lists, and sex offender rosters.

Review these reports carefully. If you see anything that appears fraudulent, immediately put a fraud alert on your reports by calling the credit reporting agencies.


Watch for “Skimming”
When using your credit and debit cards at restaurants and stores, pay close attention to how the magnetic stripe information is swiped by the waiter or clerk.

Dishonest employees have been known to use small hand-held devices called skimmers to quickly swipe the card and then later download the account number data onto a personal computer. The thief uses the account data for Internet shopping and/or the creation of counterfeit cards.


Keep Your Receipts
Never toss deposit or credit card receipts in a public trash container. When shopping, put receipts in your wallet rather than in the shopping bag.


Freeze Your Credit Reports
Californians and individuals in 11 other states are now able to "freeze" their credit reports. By freezing your credit reports, you can prevent credit issuers from accessing your credit files except when you give permission. A freeze effectively prevents thieves from opening up new credit card and loan accounts. In most states where available, security freezes are placed at no charge to identity theft victims and for a relatively small fee for non-victims.


Don’t Bother with Identity Theft Insurance
There are many identity theft insurance products available to consumers. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of exclusions and many stipulations to reimbursement, and filing of claims. In addition, identity theft insurance seldom provides a resolution for the effects of identity theft and resolution is what you most need and want when you have become a victim.


Use Online Accounts
Online banking is offered by just about every bank nowadays. Take advantage of the convenience of viewing your statements and paying your bills. With fewer account statements and bills mailed to and from your home, you will reduce the risk of mail theft and identity theft. In addition to less incoming and outgoing mail, you can keep a close eye on your accounts to better detect suspicious activity. Most credit cards and utility companies also offer the convenience of online accounts. Call the companies with which you do business to see if online options are available to you.


Use a gel pen for writing checks.
One of the many ways that check fraud is perpetrated is through a process called “check washing.” Mail snatchers erase the ink on a check with chemicals found in common household cleaning products and then rewrite the checks to themselves, increasing the amount payable often by thousands of dollars. Experts say that gel ink contains tiny particles of color that are trapped in the paper, making check washing more difficult.



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