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So the old saying goes, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” These days, identity thieves use a wide range of tactics —from the very simple to the highly sophisticated —to “fool” you into giving them your money. And despite the warnings, consumers unwittingly expose themselves to would-be scammers time and time again by failing to protect their personal and financial data. Here are some important steps for keeping your information out of the wrong hands.
Never give financial data to anyone calling to “verify” it
Crooks are using ever-more deceiving methods to pose as banks or credit card companies looking to “verify” your account, debit card, or credit card information. Some make the call, text message, or e-mail appear as though it’s coming from the institution. Caller IDs are manipulated and e-mails and websites look like the real thing. But the bottom line is that no reputable institution will contact you unexpectedly to verify this kind of personal information. (However, they may ask you such questions to verify your identity when you initiate the call.) If you receive such a call or e-mail, do not respond. Call your institution directly to report it.
Keep your Social Security number under wraps
Yes, there are times when banks and other companies legitimately need your Social Security number (SSN) —to open an account or for a credit application, for example. But other than that, you should be wary of giving that number to anyone. If a company still uses SSNs as customer ID numbers, ask them if they can provide a substitute. Also, ask the Registry of Motor Vehicles to assign you a random number —typically beginning with “S” —in place of your SSN on your license. And don’t write your SSN on your checks!
Shred anything that identifies you
Many times, the best tool is a good shredder. To avoid a crime called “dumpster diving” where crooks actually sift through landfills and dumpsters looking for information they can use, make sure anything with your name, address, and other personally identifying information gets shredded before it’s discarded. Pay particular attention to shredding credit card mailings and other offers of credit, bank and credit card statements, and receipts.
Opt out of prescreened offers
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), credit bureaus can include your name on lists used by companies to extend you unsolicited “firm offers” of credit or insurance. But, the FCRA also provides you the right to “opt-out,” which prevents those agencies from providing your credit file information for firm offers. To opt out, visit OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-567-8688. (Note: you will have to provide your Social Security number.)
If it’s too good to be true...
If you receive unsolicited mail or calls telling you you’ve won a lottery you never entered —particularly one in another country —or that you stand to inherit part of a fortune just by depositing or cashing checks against your account and wiring the money elsewhere, don’t fall for it! Ultimately, these thieves just want to get at your money.
Review your free credit reports annually
Make sure that once a year, you request your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. That way, you’ll know if someone’s been opening accounts in your name without your knowledge. In the end, reviewing your credit reports as well as statements from your bank accounts, debit cards, and credit cards as soon as you receive them is the best way to spot potential identity fraud before it’s gone too far.
Your best defense is a good offense, so make sure you know what’s happening with your accounts before you get an unwelcome surprise.