How do I avoid identity theft?

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For the twelfth year in a row, identity theft has been the #1 complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission. What can you do to protect yourself?

  • Protect your social security number. Do not carry it in your wallet. Share it only when you know who you  are giving it to and why they need it.
  • Pick up your mail promptly. Do not leave it in a place where strangers can get it while you are away from home.
  • Shred bank and credit card statements, and any other financial documents or paperwork with personal information, before you discard them.
  • Keep personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, outside help, or are having work done in your home.
  • Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know  who you are dealing with.
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Even if it looks like an email sent by your bank or by a  government agency: It could be a fake.
  • Do not use obvious passwords like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your social security number.
  • Review your account statements regularly for charges you did not make. Also review your medical explanation of benefits forms to ensure that there are no surprise charges for medical benefits.
  • Check your credit report. Each year, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from the three major nationwide credit reporting agencies. It’s easy to get your report by calling Annual Credit Report at 1.877.322.8228.

If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, act quickly. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-ID-THEFT for information about steps you can take to limit the damage. You may want to close affected accounts, file a police report, or call the Attorney General Consumer Protection Line at 1.800.282.0515. You can place a “fraud alert” on your credit report by calling one of the following companies:

  • Experian www.experian.com, 1.888.397.3742
  • Equifax: www.equifax.com, 1.800.525.6285
  • TransUnion: www.transunion.com, 1.800.680.7289  

Be careful with your personal information and take action immediately if you think someone has stolen your identifying information.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone. She does not express the views of the FTC or of any individual commissioner.

This FAQ was written by  FTC Attorney Maria Del Monaco,   and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue  2 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

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