Protect Yourself From Identity Theft and Scams

Scams are everywhere. However, identity theft and its evil twin, phishing, have become major problems. Strictly, identity theft occurs when someone literally steals your identity. They set up bank accounts, take out credit cards, and borrow money in your name. But related scams include someone using your credit card number illegally, or stealing your PIN and looting your bank account.

Phishing occurs when someone pretends to be a legitimate business or government organization and convinces you to give up personal or financial information. They often use phone calls or e-mail messages and even set up fake Web sites.

The number of these scams is exploding. If you fall victim, you’ll spend countless hours sorting out the mess. Follow these tips to help protect your identity.
* Your physical property. Theives love to go through newly delivered mail looking for credit card and bank statements. They’ll also sort through garbage for discarded bills and statements that show account numbers. Protect yourself with a locking mailbox and a shredder. Shred all financial data before you throw it out. Don’t carry PIN numbers or your social security card in your purse or wallet.
* Your computer. Many phishing attempts come via the Internet. Never give out your social security number or account numbers unless you’ve initiated the transaction. Never reply to e-mail requests to “update your information.” If in doubt, telephone the company or organization. Install software to screen out junkmail and protect against viruses and spyware. These can be used to steal your personal data or direct you to bogus Web sites. Update your protection regularly.
* Your telephone. Never give out personal information in response to an unsolicited call. Don’t fall for calls claiming to be from your bank’s security department. Reduce unwanted calls by listing your number on the national “do not call” list. If a telephone solicitor calls, ask to be put on their “do not call” list and then hang up.
* Your accounts and credit report. Reconcile your bank accounts regularly. Report unusual activity immediately. Consider online access so that you can review activity frequently. Every four months, go to www.annualcreditreport.com and order a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major agencies. Look for mistakes, accounts you don’t recognize, or strange credit inquires. immediately.

These steps won’t guarantee protection, but they’re a good start.

Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself

1. Never provide or “update” personal information in response to an e-mail.
2. Don’t give out your PIN or other personal information on the phone.
3. Sign the back of your credit cards.
4. Don’t give out your credit card number unless you initiated the transaction and know who you’re dealing with.
5. Shred mail and other papers containing personal information before throwing them away.