Tips for Preventing Identity Theft

01/01/2017

The following tips can help lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN.
  • Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you know who you’re dealing with and preferably only if you've initiated the contact. Make sure you are dealing with a legitimate organization. As a general rule, never give out your Social Security or driver’s license numbers. 
  • Don’t put personal information such as your birth year, mother’s maiden name or other information on public social media sites.  Fraudsters can use that information to decipher your passwords.  Also, if you use a smart phone, be careful not to list personal information, account numbers and passwords.  If you lose or misplace your phone, a potential fraudster could easily access your information.
  • Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, don’t give your personal information. 
  • Remember: Banks will not ask you to verify your personal account information over the phone or via e-mail if they initiated the call. They already have that on file. If you receive a phone call or e-mail asking you to verify such information, don't respond. Instead, contact the bank directly. 
  • Don’t leave sensitive documents containing personal information where people can see it. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information, including credit card offers and convenience checks that you don’t use. 
  • Retrieve your postal mail promptly, and discontinue delivery while you’re out of town. Whenever possible, mail bills from your post office, not your mail box. Stop or reduce junk mail or unsolicited credit card offers by visiting the National Credit Bureau’s opt out website or call them at (888) 567-8688.
  • Open your bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time—it may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges. 
  • Check your credit reports. Review your credit report at least once a year. Check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges. 
  • Protect your computer by following good security practices. Use strong passwords that are hard to guess. Use firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software that you update regularly. Download software only from sites you know and trust and only after reading all the terms and conditions. Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.
  • Before you get rid of an old computer, make sure you destroy the information on the hard drive. Often that means destroying the drive itself because erasing data doesn’t completely eliminate it.  Otherwise look for software tools that will completely wipe data from the hard drive.
  • Use caution when shopping online, check out a website before entering your credit card number or other personal information. Read the privacy policy and take opportunities to opt out of information sharing. Only enter personal information on secure web pages that encrypt your data in transit. You can often tell if a page is secure if “https” is in the URL or if there is a padlock icon on the browser window. Consumer protections under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act apply to Internet credit card purchases. Keep records of the purchase.
  • When banking or paying credit cards online, avoid passwords that include personal information, such as mother's maiden name or date of birth.  Instead, use something unique that only you know.
  • If you receive an email asking for personal information, do not hit the "reply" button or click on any website link in the email.  Instead, go directly to the website of the company you want to contact by typing in that company's website address.
  • Do not plug in unknown or unfamiliar jump drives into your laptop or desktop computer.
  • Use a shredder before disposing of personal records, especially financial records-preferably a cross-cut shredder. (Thieves have been known to paste together single-shred documents to obtain information.)
  • Don't use an automatic log-in feature on your computer.

If you become a victim you should:

  1. Contact your financial institutions and credit card  issuers immediately.
    Access to your accounts can be protected; stop payments may be issued on missing checks; personal identification numbers (PINS) and online banking passwords changed; and a new account may be opened, with new checks if appropriate. ATM and Debit cards can also be deactivated.
  2. Contact the major check verification companies
    Call Telecheck, Equifax or International Check Services to request they notify retailers using their databases not to accept these stolen checks, or ask your bank to notify the verification service with which it does business.
  3. File a police report
    Obtain a police report number from your local police department with the date, time, location and the police officer taking the report. This report will be helpful when clarifying to creditors that you are a victim of identity theft.
  4. Request a copy of your credit report.
    Residents of Massachusetts may obtain a complimentary copy of their credit reports annually. Credit bureaus must also provide a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud. Review your reports to be sure additional fraudulent accounts have not been opened in your name, or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts.  Notify any creditor in writing of fraudulent accounts.  (The Fair Credit Billing Act requires written communication to resolve errors on credit billing statements, including charges that you have not made).  Send your letter by certified mail and request a return receipt to document what the credit bureau received and when. Request a “fraud alert” for your file and a victim’s statement asking creditors to call you before opening a new account or changing your existing ones.  In a few months, order new copies of your report to verify your corrections and changes.
  5. Check your mailbox
    If a thief has stolen your mail they may have obtained credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers or tax information. Make sure no one has requested an unauthorized address change, PIN change, or ordered new cards or checks to be sent to another address. If you suspect anyone has stolen your mail contact your local post office and police department immediately.
  6. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Response Center to report identity theft.
  7. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
    If you suspect your name or social security number is being used by a thief to obtain a driver’s license.  Consider asking the DMV to replace your SSN with a special driver’s license number.
  8. Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA)
    Allegations that a SSN has been stolen or misused should be reported to the SSA Fraud Hotline.
  9. Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS)
    The USPIS is one of the federal law enforcement agencies investigating cases of identity theft. Call your local post office to locate the USPIS district office nearest you or visit their web site.
  10. Contact your State Attorney General’s Office
    Many states and local governments have passed laws related to identity theft; Massachusetts has such  laws; Mass Gen. Laws Ch. 266, 37E.  For a list of State Attorney General offices visit  www.naag.org.

Major Check Verification Companies:

  • Telecheck (800) 710-9898
  • Equifax (800 437-5120
  • International Check Services (800) 631-9656

Contact the credit bureaus below for a copy of your Credit Report:

Equifax

  • (800) 525-6285 to report fraud
  • (800) 685-1111 to order a credit report

Experian

  • (888) 397-3742 to report fraud
  • (888) 397-3742 to order a credit report

Trans Union 

  • (800) 680-7289 to report fraud
  •  (800) 916-8800 to order a credit report   

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Response Center:

By telephone:

Identity Theft Hotline: 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)

TDD: (202) 326-2502

By Mail:

Identity Theft Clearinghouse Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20580

Online: www.consumer.gov/idtheft

Social Security Administration (SSA):

By telephone: (800) 269-0271

By fax: (410) 597-0018

By mail
SSA Fraud Hotline
PO Box 17768
Baltimore, MD 21235

Email oig.hotline@ssa.gov

U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS): 
www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect

State Attorney General’s Office:

a)  In Massachusetts, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint Information Section at (617) 727-8400

Federal Trade Commission Information Website:

www.FTC.gov