Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tips for preventing identity theft: Digital Hygiene Part 2

By Don Gardner

This is the second in a series of articles by Don Gardner, Clearwater County Emergency Management Coordinator, about protecting your digital identity.

Last week I introduced you to some basic tips, which I referred to as Level 1 steps, to begin protecting your digital identity. This week I will offer more Level 1 tips.

Check your credit card accounts often - even daily. It’s surprising that a lot of credit card fraud goes unnoticed. Someone may have acquired your credit card information and may be charging things to your credit card without you even noticing. If they keep a low enough profile, they can hope you’ll overlook a few anomalies and that they’ll get away with it.

Check absolutely everything… twice. Review your monthly statements and credit card bills closely for anything that seems out of place. Amazingly, nine out of 10 people never check their credit card statements before paying the charges; but you can't catch unauthorized charges if you don’t read your statements.

View your accounts daily, or at least weekly, to look for suspicious charges. Typically you will have 60 days to refute them. If you suspect fraud or don't recognize a transaction on your statement, call your credit card company or financial institution immediately. Check your credit report once a year. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has obtained access to your account information.

Opt for credit rather than debit. It may seem safer to use your debit card - you have to punch in a PIN number, after all - but this gives debit card hackers access to your actual funds. Additionally, debit card companies generally only give you two days to refute erroneous charges. So use credit, and check your bank account frequently as well.

Never give anyone your personal information unless you know exactly who they are. Identity thieves may call or email, posing as banks, businesses or government agencies. To prevent identity theft, do not give out personal information over the phone or in email unless you initiated the contact.

Never respond to any email or phone call asking you to validate or re-enter your personal information to access your accounts.

Never keep your PIN (personal identification number) with your debit, credit, or ATM card. Never write your PIN on your card; doing so will allow anyone who has your card complete access to your account.

Never let anyone borrow your credit, debit, or ATM card, or use your number to help them make a purchase.

Never provide account information on contest entry forms or give any information to claim your prize.

If any deal sounds too good to be true, it is. Don't become a victim.

There are no Nigerian diplomats or businessmen that need your help in getting millions of dollars released from the government. Think for a moment: Of the seven billion people on this planet, why would they contact you?

Shred unwanted receipts, credit offers, account statements, expired cards, and any other sensitive information to prevent dumpster divers getting your personal information. Buy a document shredder, preferably a cross cut type. Never throw out sensitive information without shredding it first.

Only carry essential documents with you. Don't carry your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, etc. in your wallet or purse. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary. Make sure your bank does not print your Social Security Number on your personal checks.

Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work. Don't leave it lying around. Make a photocopy of all your cards (front and back), and keep them in a safe place. If your cards get lost, you will have all the account and phone number information to call the credit company.

Protect your mail. Never put your outgoing payments in your mailbox for the postal carrier to collect. Anyone can take your mail out of the box and they would have your account numbers and signature to duplicate your checks or start identity theft. Take your payments to a secure postbox.

When ordering new checks, you can prevent identity theft by picking them up at the bank instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered, and cashed by identity thieves.

Collect your mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home for more than a day or two.

Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your computer. That is something you should have been doing for a long time. It’s easy, just get it done.

Next week I will get into Level 2, i.e. more advanced, tips on protecting your digital identity.

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