To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, there are some basic steps you can take.
The most important one is to ask periodically for a copy of your credit report. This is crucial because it is the surest and quickest way to determine if someone is using your name. Your credit report should list all bank and financial accounts under your name, and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used any accounts in your name. Any discrepancies should send up a red flag for you.
Next, be careful about giving out your personal information to others unless you have a reason to trust them. Start by adopting a “need to know” approach to your personal data.
Your credit card company may need to know your mother’s maiden name, so that it can verify your identity when you call to inquire about your account, but a person who instead calls you does not need to know that information. Also, limit the personal information you have on your bank checks.
Be suspicious of someone who calls you on the telephone and offers you the chance to receive a credit card, for instance, and asks you for personal information. Request that he send you a written application form. If they refuse, tell them you are not interested and hang up.
If you’re traveling, have your mail held at your local post office or ask someone you trust to collect your mail while you are gone.
Do not give out personal information when you are on the telephone in a public place where people can listen in to your conversation.
Check your financial information (credit report) regularly, and look for what should be there and what shouldn’t.
And remember to ask periodically for a copy of your credit report.