Tips on Preventing ID Theft
There are a number of things you can do to minimize the chances that you will become a victim of identity theft.
- Be very cautious about giving your personal or financial information to anyone.
- Never provide personal identifying or financial information over the telephone when you did not initiate the call. This includes callers selling goods and services as well as charitable solicitors. Banks, credit card companies, telephone companies and other legitimate creditors do not call to "verify" account numbers or to ask for your social security number or other personal information.
- Never provide personal identifying or financial information over the telephone to anyone claiming to represent a contest or sweepstakes promotion. It is illegal to market a foreign lottery in the United States. These calls are always fraudulent.
- Never carry your social security card in your purse or wallet.
- Never have your social security number printed on your checks, drivers' license or other financial documents. If a bank, health care provider or other entity uses your social security number for client or account identification, call or write that company and ask that a different identification number be issued.
- Never respond to e-mail or "pop-up" messages on your computer claiming some problem with a credit card, Internet, or other account. Promptly contact your real credit card company or ISP to verify that there are no problems with your account.
- Purchase a simple "cross-cut" shredder (the kind that creates confetti, not the long strips) and get in the habit of shredding all personal or financial documents you intend to discard before placing them in the trash. Shred copies of bills and invoices after you have paid them, bank statements (including your cancelled checks), investment or retirement account statements, pre-approved credit card or loan applications (especially those that come with a negotiable check attached), medical statements of any kind, and any other documents that contain information about you or your finances.
- Place password protection on all credit card accounts that allow it. Do not use common numbers or personal information (like birth dates or part of your social security number) or commonly chosen words (such as a child's, spouse's, or pet's name) for passwords.
- Control access to your credit history. Remove your name from mailing lists for pre-approved lines of credit. You will need to provide your social security number to verify that you are making the request, but this is a legitimate use of such information.
- Be careful with your incoming and outgoing mail. If you don't have a secure, locked mailbox, mail your bills from a curbside public mailbox or directly at your local post office. Never leave outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox overnight. If you are planning on being away from home on vacation, arrange with your post office to hold your mail.
- Arrange to pick up new checks at your bank. Never have boxes of new checks delivered to your home (they do not fit in many mail slots so your postal carrier may leave them on your doorstep).
- Take all credit card or ATM receipts with you after you pay for goods or services. Do not just leave them behind or throw them away in the nearest trashcan. Destroy them in your cross-cut shredder when you get home.
- Write to your bank, insurance company and other financial institutions you do business with and tell them not to share your customer information with unaffiliated third parties. Under federal law, they are required to honor this request.
- Federal, State and City agencies do not solicit information over the telephone; do not volunteer any information about your financial, business or personal life.
Social Security Numbers
Your social security number ("SSN") is the most frequently used personal identifier and record keeping number in America. Because of that, it is also highly sought after by identity thieves looking to steal from your existing bank and credit card accounts or to establish new credit in your name. Consumers are constantly being asked to provide their SSN when cashing checks, opening new accounts, and for other purposes. Here is some basic information on who can require your SSN.
Who can require my SSN?
Many people assume that they are required to give their SSN whenever and by whoever asked. That is not true. Here is who may require your SSN:
- Government tax and welfare agencies, including the IRS, other federal agencies (for health benefits and other entitlements), state/local tax or revenue agencies;
- State professional/occupational/recreational licensing agencies;
- Other governmental agencies -- under federal law, they must tell you why your SSN is needed, whether giving your SSN is mandatory or voluntary, and how your SSN is to be used;
- Employer - You employer can require it for wage/tax purposes, but NOT from a job applicant;
- Banks and securities brokerages -- under the USA Patriot Act, 31 U.S.C. § 5318, financial institutions are required to establish minimum standards for properly identifying their customers opening new accounts (include checking, savings, loans, safe deposit boxes, and/or investments). Under federal regulations adopted in May 2003, banks, savings associations, credit unions, securities broker-dealers, futures commissions merchants, and mutual funds were required to have Customer Identification Programs ("CIPs") in place by October 1, 2003.