How to protect yourself from Identity Theft. “Identity theft” sounds like a movie title, but it is a real-life horror story for hundreds of thousands of people every year.
Identity theft occurs when someone fraudulently uses your personal information – your social security number, driver’s license number, birth date, etc. – to apply for credit, services, or benefits using your name. Lawsuits, garnished wages, and tax liens can result. To make matters worse, because the theft is “invisible,” you may not discover it quickly.
How can you protect yourself? Here are some practical steps you can take.
- Watch the numbers. Store your social security card in a safe place. Don’t print your social security number on your checks, and refrain from using it as a password on your financial or Internet accounts. If you are required to provide your social security number, find out how it will be used and how it will be protected.
- Keep your data confidential.Give out your birth date only when absolutely necessary. Leave off either the day or the year, if possible.Prevent your account numbers from falling into the wrong hands by shredding documents rather than simply discarding them. Shred all discarded mail that contains personal information, such as pre-approved credit offers.
- Monitor your credit.Check your monthly bills to make sure all charges are legitimate. Investigate unusual items immediately.Consider lowering the limit on your credit cards to reduce the extent of fraudulent activity if a card is stolen or lost. Cancel cards you no longer use.Order a credit report at least annually. Check it for errors and notify the credit bureau if you find any.
Don’t become a social media fraud victim
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media sites provide innovative ways to connect with friends, share recipes and even find your soulmate. Such sites are also a treasure trove for cybercriminals. Day in and day out crooks scan social media accounts to glean personal information. Their goal? Steal your identity and/or pilfer your bank accounts. Watch for these common scams:
- Twitter traps. You can use Twitter to make money from home by paying a small sign-up fee for a “Twitter Cash Starter Kit.” To purchase the kit, you need to provide a credit card number. Sound familiar? In another scam, you’re contacted by a “bot” (software that mimics a human being) pretending to give you access to a “pay-for- follower” service. If you take the bait, your bank or credit card information may be compromised. You could be accused of distributing spam and may be banished from the networking platform.
- Facebook cons. With more than two billion active monthly users, Facebook is a prime target for rip-off artists. One type of scam is called “catfishing.” The crook trolls the user base to find a victim, then begins establishing trust and building a relationship. Once an online “friendship” is in place, the crook agrees to meet the victim offline. Unfortunately, the “friend” needs travel funds or help with some other financial crisis. That’s when they ask you to provide the requisite funds, preferably via wire transfer.
- Snapchat hoaxes. You receive a message that your “memories” (photos) will be deleted unless you copy a message and share it with friends. The goal, of course, is to gain access to your online contacts and exploit them.
The above social media scams may sound alarming, but there are ways you can protect yourself and your personal data. Consider the following:
- Set privacy controls.
- Choose strong passwords.
- Use caution when sharing personal information online.
- Never send money or give credit card information to someone you don’t know.
How to Protect Your Social Security Number from Theft.
With the dramatic increase in identity theft, what can be done to protect your Social Security Number (SSN) from these would-be thieves? Here are some ideas of what can be done to protect your Social Security Number (SSN).
- Do not carry your Social Security Card with you. You will need to provide it to a new employer, but that is about it.
- Know who NEEDS your Social Security Number. The list of those who need to have your number is limited. It includes:
- Your employer. To issue wages and pay your taxes.
- The IRS. To process your taxes.
- The State Revenue department. To process your state taxes.
- The Social Security Administration. To note your work history and record your benefits.
- Your retirement account provider. To enable annual reporting to the IRS.
- Banks. To enable reporting to the IRS.
- Those who need to report your activity to the government (example: investment companies.)
Here are some things not to do:
- Do not use any part of your Social Security number for passwords or account access. Many retirement plans use your Social Security Number to enable you to access their on-line tool. When this happens, reset the login and password as soon as possible.
- Do not put your Social Security Number on any form. Unless a business has a legal need for your number, do not provide it. Common requestors of this number are insurance companies and health care providers. Simply write, “not available due to theft risk” in the field that requests your number. If the supplier says they need it, ask them why.
- Do not note your full Social Security number on any form. If you have to give out your number, mark out the first five numbers (xxx-xx-1234)
- Do not put your Social Security Number on your checks. Certainly not on your pre-printed checks. If requested by the government to place your number on your check to apply your payments, simply put the last four digits on the check.
- Never give your number out over the phone or in an email. The only exception is when you make the phone call to a valid source that will need the number to access your account.This list is very limited. It includes calls you make to the IRS, Social Security, your state government, and limited partial numbers to your bank and health care insurance company.