Minimizing the Possibility of Identity Theft

  • The primary responsibility for protecting your identity lies with YOU.
  • A lot of time and careful effort are needed to guard against identity theft.
  • However, a great deal more time, effort — and expense — are needed to recover a stolen identity.
  • Identity theft protection services are generally not worth the expense.
  • You can usually protect yourself just as well by consistently taking a number of precautions.
  • You may not be able to completely prevent your identity being stolen, but there is much you can do to minimize it.

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Be stingy with information.

  • Don’t divulge personal identifying information (e.g., account number, Social Security number) unless you are sure you’re dealing with the correct company or an authorized representative.
  • Speak with a supervisor if you want verification.
  • Record the name and contact information of the person you speak with before proceeding.
  • Ask what your information will be used for.
  • See Know privacy policies (below).

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Guard your Social Security number (SSN).

  • Do not disclose your SSN on any form unless there is a proven requirement for it. Any agency requesting your SSN is legally required to inform you whether that disclosure is mandatory or voluntary, by what statutory authority your SSN is requested, and how it will be used.
  • Make sure a business is not using your SSN as part of your account number or identification number.
  • Never have your SSN printed on checks.
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card with you.
  • See Electronic Privacy Information Center: Social Security Numbers for more details.

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Understand privacy policies.

  • Before you set up a business account, read and make sure you understand its privacy policy.
  • If it is not acceptable to you, do not set up the account.
  • Ask if your information is shared with other companies and find out if you can “opt-out.”

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Carry only what you need.

  • Don’t carry seldom used or out-of-date cards or licenses.
  • Don’t carry a checkbook.
  • Pay by cash or credit card.
  • Remove unnecessary personal information from your vehicle.
  • Know how to contact the issuing companies if your cards are lost or stolen.
  • Lock up the information you don’t carry with you.
  • Record and securely store:
    • an up-to-date inventory of the cards you carry
    • contact information for the card-issuing companies
    • photocopy of both sides of each item of personal information you carry

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Protect your cards and passwords.

  • Do not sign the back of credit, ATM or debit cards. Instead, write “Ask for picture ID” in the space where you would normally sign.
  • If your card is lost or stolen, immediately contact both the issuing company and the three credit reporting bureaus to have a “Fraud Alert” placed in your file. Generally, you have only 60 days to dispute any charges.
  • Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder when you use an ATM machine.

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Monitor your account activity.

  • Destroy all credit card receipts you no longer need and keep the others locked up.
  • If credit card receipts have your entire account number printed on them, ask the company to print only the last few digits instead.
  • Cancel your paper bills and pay them online through a secure website.
  • Monitor account balances and activity at least weekly online (monthly if you have paper bills).
  • Keep a calendar of when each of your paper bills normally arrives and contact the company if one is late or missing.
  • Each month, read and verify every line item on all invoices, bills, and statements. If there are charges that you cannot verify, immediately contact the company for clarification.
  • If you find erroneous charges, file a formal dispute as soon as possible, within 60 days of the transaction. You may also need to file a police report and notify the three credit reporting bureaus :
    • Equifax: 1.800.525.6285
    • Experian: 1.888.397.3742
    • Trans Union: 1.800.680.7289

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Secure your mail.

  • Use a locked or secured mail box, commercial box, post office box, or mail room service at your office for business transactions.
  • If you think someone else has been using your mailing address, check with the post office for unauthorized change-of-address requests.
  • Keep pre-approvals from credit card companies out of your mailbox by removing your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus. See OptOutPrescreen.com for details.

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Tighten up your banking activities.

  • If possible, check your statements online instead of receiving paper copies.
  • Monitor your account activity electronically at least weekly. Be sure you are using a secure site.
  • If you do not have online account access, review paper bank statements monthly for missing statements and questionable activity.
  • Receive new checks at the bank instead of by mail.
  • Do not have your SSN, license number, or membership numbers printed on checks.
  • Have your checks imprinted with only your initials and last name.
  • Use your work telephone number, address, or U. S. Post Office box rather than your home phone number and address.
  • When paying by check, show only the last few digits of your account number.
  • Consider using traveler’s checks instead of personal checks.
  • Use email or text alerts to monitor your account activity.

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Be especially careful online.

  • Use only secure sites, which are indicated by an address that begins with https:// and a closed lock icon in the browser window.
    Be aware that fraudulent sites can also have these designations.
  • Update your antivirus and other filters automatically.
  • Always use a firewall. (What is a firewall?)
  • Don’t install untrusted programs.
  • Be cautious about opening attachments or accepting cookies.
  • Be very wary of solicitations from untrusted sources, e.g., charities, job offers, product specials.
  • Use only trusted methods of payment, e.g., credit card, PayPal.
  • Don’t respond to requests for updating your account information without verifying the source of the request.
  • Don’t click on links inside emails purporting to come from a business with whom you have an account. Instead, contact the business the way you usually do and make sure that you have not been directed to a fake site posing as the business. Furnish information to the business only in ways you know are secure.
  • Don’t write down your user IDs, passwords, or PIN numbers.
  • Change your passwords often. Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and acceptable symbols, if any.
  • Always log off when you finish using public Internet access devices.

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Shred unneeded documents.

  • Unwanted pre-approvals for credit cards in your name
  • Papers containing personal or financial information or account numbers
  • Unneeded charge receipts
  • Copies of credit applications
  • Outdated insurance forms
  • Old bank statements and checks
  • Expired credit cards
  • Medical and insurance records that are no longer needed

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Protect electronic information.

  • Use passwords for controlling access.
  • Use encryption for transmitting sensitive information.
  • Control access to all critical information; e.g., operating systems, applications, profiles, business transactions, accounting files, personal identifying information.
  • Make backups on a regular basis.
  • Keep archived copies in a secure location.
  • Don’t store locally any more information than you need.

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Monitor your credit reports.

  • Check these at least once a year.  You are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). You may prefer to stagger these and get one every four months rather than all three at once.
    NOTE: Your annual credit report is free, but there is a fee for your credit score. For information on the calculation of scores, see Credit Score – United States (Wikipedia).
  • North Carolina residents can order their free credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.com, the central site set up by the three credit reporting bureaus. To be certain that you are contacting the authentic organization and not a fraudulent one, You may prefer to
    • Call the central phone number, (877)322-8228
    • Order from the central mailing address:
      Annual Credit Report Request Service
      P.O. Box 105281
      Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
  • When you order, ask that only the last four digits of your Social Security number be printed on your reports.
  • You do not have to provide an email address in order to get your free reports.
  • Make sure to have the reports sent only to a secure mailing address.
  • You can place a security freeze on your credit reports. See:
    North Carolina Credit Freeze Instructions
  • Review your reports very carefully, making sure they are accurate and include only those activities that you have authorized.
  • If you find any erroneous entries, immediately contact the three credit reporting bureaus and file a fraud report. If necessary, file a police report.
  • For more information, see these sites:

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Be extra cautious when traveling.

  • Keep important papers in a safe, either one in the room or at the front desk.
  • Have photocopies of your passport and all credit cards and account numbers as well as the telephone numbers of the issuing organizations.
  • Keep these copies separate from the documents themselves.

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Be wary of promotional scams.

  • Thieves use promotional offers (e.g., mail, online, telephone, in person) to encourage you to divulge personal information.
  • Before you accept such an offer, search online for additional information about it.

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Opt out.

  • To remove your name from lists that four of the consumer reporting firms (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion) sell to credit card companies, call 1-888-567-8688 (1-888-5OPTOUT) or fill out the form at their Web site,  OptOutPrescreen.com. You can choose whether removal will last for 5 years or permanently.
  • If you receive an unsolicited email that asks you to click on a link or mark a checkbox in order to stop receiving  future messages, don’t respond. Otherwise, you will get even more messages.

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Use a military freeze when deployed.

  • Military personnel can take an extra precaution. Before deploying to a location where you are not likely apply for credit or manage your financial accounts, add a “Soldier Freeze Military Alert” to all your credit files (e.g., credit reporting bureaus, banks, credit card companies, mortgage lenders). This will help protect you from identity theft while deployed.
  • These alerts are good for only one year. If your deployment lasts longer, you can add another alert to your files.

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Understand your legal rights

  • You have both federal and state rights regarding identity theft.
  • Victim assistance from businesses or local, state or federal agencies is still minimal, but many changes are currently in the works.

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Find out your responsibilities, liabilities and reporting requirements

  • Be fully aware of what you need to do about erroneous or fraudulent transactions on your accounts, especially credit cards.
  • Be sure to respond to such transactions promptly.

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Go to Identity Theft main page.

Go to Safe Computing @ NC State.