By Barbara Pronin
Identity theft is a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your credit. Preventing it starts with managing your personal information carefully and sensibly. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends seven simple precautions:
- Carry only essential documents – On any given day, go not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, a birth certificate or passport with you outside the house unless they will be needed.
- Keep new checks out of the mail – When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, if possible, instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves.
- Be careful on the phone – Identity thieves may call, posing as banks or government agencies and asking for personal information. Do not give out credit card numbers of other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
- Your trash can be a thief’s treasure - Shred all receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, returned checks and any other sensitive information before throwing it away.
- Stay on top of your credit – Check credit card statements, be alert if a statement is missing, and make sure your credit reports are accurate. If possible, sign up for a credit monitoring service, which will alert you to any changes in your credit report
- Keep a list of account numbers – In a safe place, such as a locked box, keep a list of your account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers. If your wallet is stolen, or a card is missing, you can quickly alert your creditors.
- Create complex passwords or PIN numbers – Using a random mix of letters or numbers makes it harder for identity thieves to discover the codes.