Keep an eye on credit reports and bills, because identity theft is a never-ending issue. As technology changes, new types of scams come onto the scene, but there are ways to protect yourself.
Michelle Gleba, regional director of Better Business Bureau Columbia provided tips on ways to keep your identity safe.
Avoiding a scam
Safeguard your Social Security number. Carrying a Social Security card in a purse or wallet can be dangerous. If it is stolen, the thief could gain access to important private information. Instead, keep it in a safe place at home. Documents or businesses that require a form of identification may accept something else. Try a different form of identification to minimize access to critical information. Personal checks do not need a Social Security number.
Shred documents with personal information. Information that ends up in the trash could potentially be discovered by an identity thief. All private documents should be shredded when they are no longer needed. This includes unsolicited applications for credit cards and other unwanted mail.
Secure important documents. If a document is still in use, put it in a safe place. Documents lying on the counter may be seen by unfamiliar people, such as plumbers or electricians.
Be careful on public computers. Personal information found on a public computer may be accessed by someone else. Handle personal information on a private computer. Write a Social Security number down rather than sending it via email.
Use different passwords. A thief only needs to discover one password if a victim’s passwords are identical. Common passwords include kids’ birthdays and names, maiden names and the last four digits of a Social Security number, so avoid these options. Original passwords are better.
Be careful with social media. Now that people share their lives online, information can be accessed through multiple social media sites. Strangers cannot access private accounts without permission, so be wary of your online privacy settings and interactions.
Watch out for phishing. Phishing is fraudulent use of information channels to claim affiliation with a reputable company to entice individuals to reveal personal information. This can be online, by phone, by email or by mail. If someone claims to be with a professional company, check spelling and grammar, as these are warning signs of a scammer.
Unsolicited phone calls may also be a scam. Banks and other companies that require personal information likely already have it, so don’t give out personal information to callers you don’t know. Calling a bank or company can help ensure that you are talking to professionals.
Even with these precautions, identities can still be stolen. A scammer can do more damage if an identity theft is not discovered. The most important thing to do is to check credit reports regularly, Gleba said. She also said to check accounts regularly to see if they are accurate.
A credit report can be checked for free at annualcreditreport.com.
After discovering that an identity has been stolen, report it to the credit card company promptly. Point out any and all inaccuracies in the account so the company has more information about what steps to take next.
Besides the credit provider, contact the three main credit bureaus as well — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They will put a fraud alert on file.
Keep in mind that it may take time to resolve all issues with identity theft, so be patient, and make sure all problems are handled completely.