Guard your financial information. Only provide your
credit card or bank account number when you are actually paying for
something with it.
Keep your social security number confidential. Itís
the key that unlocks your identity. Donít give it to anyone unless
youíre sure who it is and why itís necessary to provide it. Ask your
health insurer and other companies that may use your social security
number as your ID number to give you a substitute number. If your state
department of motor vehicles uses it as your driverís license number,
ask if you can get an alternate number.
Beware of imposters. Crooks pretending to be
from companies you do business with may call or send an email, claiming
they need to verify your personal information. Be especially suspicious if
someone contacts you and asks you to provide information they should
already have. Before responding, contact the company directly to confirm
the call or email is from them.
Keep your mail safe. Your mail contains account
numbers and other personal information. Collect it promptly from your
mailbox and ask the post office to hold it if youíre going away. Send
bill payments from the post office or a public mailbox, not from home.
Get off credit marketing lists. Credit bureaus
compile marketing lists for preapproved offers of credit. These mailings
are a gold mine for identity thieves, who may steal them and apply for
credit in your name. Get off these mailing lists by calling 888-567-8688
(your social security number will be required to verify your identity).
Removing yourself from these lists does not hurt your chances of applying
for or getting credit.
Memorize your passwords and PIN numbers. Donít
leave them in your wallet or on your desk where someone else could find
Lock it up. Keep your personal information locked up
at home, at work, at school, in your car, and other places where you might
keep it so others wonít have easy access to it.
Stay safe online. Donít send sensitive information
such as credit card numbers by email, since itís not secure. Look for
clues about security on Web sites. At the point where you are asked to
provide your financial or other sensitive information, the letters at the
beginning of the address bar at the top of the screen should change from
ďhttpĒ to ďhttpsĒ or ďshttp.Ē Your
browser may also show that the information is being encrypted, or
scrambled, so no one who might intercept it can read it. But while your
information may be safe in transmission, thatís no guarantee that the
company will store it securely. See what Web sites say about how your
information is safeguarded in storage.
If you are on active duty in the military, put an active
duty alert on your credit files. The alert will stay in your files for
at least 12 months. If someone applies for credit in your name, the
creditors will take extra precautions to make sure that the applicant is
not someone pretending to be you. Just contact one of the three major
credit bureaus to place the active duty alert; it will be shared
automatically with the other two: Equifax, 800-525-6285, TDD 800-255-0056,
Experian, 888-397-3742, TDD 800-972-0322, www.experian.com;
TransUnion, 800-680-7289, TDD 877-553-7803, www.transunion.com.
Check your credit reports regularly. If you
find accounts that donít belong to you or other incorrect information,
follow the instructions for disputing those items.
You can ask for free copies of your credit reports in
certain situations. If you were denied credit because of information
in a credit report, you can ask the credit bureau that the report came
from for a free copy of your file. And if you are the victim of identity
theft, you are on public assistance, or if you are unemployed but expect
to apply for work within 60 days, you can ask all three of the major
credit bureaus for free copies of your reports. Contact the credit bureaus
at the numbers or Web sites above.
Everyone can request free copies of their credit reports
once a year. In addition to the rights described above, a new federal
law entitles all consumers to ask each of the three major credit bureaus
for free copies of their reports once in every 12-month period. This free
annual report program started in late 2004 and is being phased in
gradually across the country, from West to East. Go to www.ftc.gov/credit
or call 877-382-4357 for more details and to see when you can make your
requests. You donít have to ask all three credit bureaus for your
reports at the same time; you can stagger your requests if you prefer. Do
not contact the credit bureaus directly for these free annual reports.
They are only available by calling 877-322-8228 or going to www.annualcreditreport.com.
You can make your requests by phone or online, or download a form to mail
Your state law may also entitle you to free credit
reports. Ask your local consumer protection or state attorney
generalís office. Any rights your state laws give you are in addition
to your rights under federal law.
Be cautious about offers for credit monitoring services. Why
pay for them when you can get your credit reports for free or very cheap?
Read the description of the services carefully. Unless youíre a victim
of serious and ongoing identity theft, buying a service that alerts you to
certain activities in your credit files probably isnít worthwhile,
especially if it costs hundreds of dollars a year. You can purchase copies
of your credit reports anytime for about $9 through the bureausí Web
sites or by phone: Equifax, 800-685-1111; Experian, 800-311-4769,
Call the Federal Trade Commission toll-free, 877-438-4338, or go to
for step-by-step advice about what to do if youíre a victim of ID