Everyday you may do things--online or off--that compromise your financial privacy and security.
Advice for staying safe online - Use sites marked with "https"; the "s" indicates a secure location.
- Never open unsolicited e-mails.
- Keep your antivirus programs updated. How to protect your personal data off-line - Don't leave checkbooks and wallets out when strangers visit, such as when you're having house repairs done.
- Limit credit cards to two or three, so you'll knoe immediately if one is missing.
- Don't assume that what appears to be a mistake on a credit card bill will clear itself up by the next billing cycle. It may be the first evidence of identity theft.
- Give out credit card numbers to make a purchase only if you have initiated the contact.
- Avoid handling over your Social Security number to businesses that enter it into a database; if it's simply being used as a password or identification number, ask to create a different one. Speak to the office manager if necessary. 'Thieves are breaking into doctors' and dentists' offices and stealing computers containing this information.
- Don't carry your Social Security card-or number-with you. Keep the card under lock and key.
- Invest in a paper shredder and destroy credit card receipts, old bills and financial companies' convinience-check mailings be stopped.
- Cup up old credit cards before discarding them.
- Mailboxes with raise red flags alert the mail carrier--and crooks--that they may contain bills with personal information. Instead, take outgoing mail to a post office or postal box. To protect delivered mail through a slot, and you use a key to open the box. Stop mail delivery when you go on vacation.
- When devising any password, avoid the most common ones, such as your birthdate or you mother's maiden name.
- Get the free annual reports from the major credit bureaus--Experian, TransUnioin and Equifax--that you're entitled to receive under federal law, but don't fall for sham sites that pretend to help you request them. One legitimate site is www.annualcreditreport.com. Stagger your reports throughout the year.
- Go to the federal Trade Commission site (www.consumer.gov/idtheft) for information on placing free fraud alerts with the credit bureaus. The alert block access to your information unless you approve it's release. Without the alert, for example, a store clerk faced with a credit-seeking identity thief who has your data can make an inquiry, get a go-ahead from the bureau and issue instant credit to the crook.
- Institute a credit freeze with the bureaus, which means no one--even you--can access your credit scores until you remove the freeze. To see if your state allows them, log on to www.uspirg.org. Note that you will pay up to $60 in fees if you need to unfreeze and refreeze your data.
- To opt out of preapproved credit card offers that arrive in the mail, call FTC-approved 888-5OPTOUT, which processes your request to creditors and prevents you from receiving unsolicited applications. The offers are a prive target for ID thieves, who use them to divert funds to themeselves.