Tips to Help Keep You Safe From Identity Theft
Imagine that your computer is a home. Directly behind the front door is your computer's hard drive, and just down the hall is where your personal data lives.
Whenever you save personal information on your PC or Mac, you want to know that everything is private and protected — and the level of your computer's security determines the strength of the deadbolt for your computer's front door.
How Spyware Gets On Your Computer
Spyware is often a component of a software application that you've intentionally installed. This is especially true of free software downloaded from the Iinternet. Spyware can also be part of a computer virus you received. And, even though you may remove the virus or fix the problems it caused, the spyware can remain on your computer, collecting data and reporting back to parties interested in stealing information.
Tips to Locking Out Intruders and Infections
Virus and spyware protection software should be installed and updated regularly.
Make sure your PC has the latest Windows operating system updates or you have the latest Mac operating system updates.
Do not open files, click on hyperlinks or download programs sent to you by strangers. And don't accept their candy, either.
Use a firewall, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection.
When submitting information online, look for the "lock" icon on your browser's status bar to help ensure that your information is secure during transmission.
Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a smart password — something with a combination of upper and lower case letters and numeric characters. (Read password tips.)
Tips to Keep Your Financial Information Safe
Check your credit report at least twice a year to make sure that no one has opened any accounts without your knowledge. By law, you can receive one free report per year from all three credit bureaus. Visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com for the details.
Properly dispose of all your documents with personal information or account numbers. Credit card bills and receipts, legal documents, loan and credit card applications. Give them all the shredder treatment.
You actually don't have to sign the back of your credit cards — and you shouldn't. Simply put "CHECK I.D." on it and you'll be covered. Just remember to carry your ID when you're shopping.
The next time you order checks, have them made with just the initial of your first name. You'll still need your full last name on them, but this will help the cause.
When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card bill, don't put the entire credit card number in the "Memo" area, just put the last four numbers. Your credit card company will have all the information they need.
•Never have your social security number printed on your checks and never keep you social security card in your wallet. The ramifications of your social security number falling into the wrong hands are bad enough — but on top of that, it's just an incredible hassle to get a new card.
Photocopy the contents of your wallet. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.
What To Do If Your Identity Is StolenDon't panic, but do act quickly.
Call the fraud department of the 3 national credit bureaus (Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, Experian: 1-888-397-3742, Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289) to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. Once you put an alert on your identity, you will receive a phone call if anyone tries to open a new account using your social security number.
Call your credit card companies immediately and report the fraudulent activity. (This is where the photocopy of your cards comes in handy.) File a police report. You may need this for some creditors as proof of a crime.File a complaint with the FTC. Call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) or go to http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/