Save Your Identity: Tip-of-the-Day #180


Identity theft causes more than financial havoc, it can cause emotional duress that can go on for years. Smart women can learn how to avoid being a victim - read on.

* Keep your confidential information private. Your bank or credit card company won't call or e-mail to ask for your account information. They already have it.

* Keep an inventory of everything in your wallet and your PDA, including account numbers. Don't keep your Social Security card or any card with your Social Security number, such as an insurance card, in your wallet.

* Order and review your credit report. You are allowed one free report each year from each of the three major credit agencies. Order reports here; it is the only place to get them for free.

* Stop getting banking and credit card information in the mail. Go paperless.

* Monitor your bank and credit card transactions for unauthorized use. Crooks with your account numbers usually start small to see if you'll notice. The sooner you catch them, the easier the problems are to clear up.

* Keep your vehicle registration and insurance forms in a sealed envelope in your glove box and lock it and your car when at home or away.

* If you conduct business online, use your own computer. A public computer is less secure, as is wireless Internet.

* Look for suspicious devices and don't let anyone stand nearby when you use an ATM. Take your card and receipt with you. Keep your PIN in your head, not in your wallet.

* Don't store credit card numbers and other financial information on your cell phone. Really folks.

* If you're job hunting using resume Web sites, don't apply unless the employer has a verifiable address.

* Once you no longer need to store them, shred any bills or statements that have your personal information on them. (Note: buy a good paper shredder for under $50).

* Keep your computer system and browser software up to date and set to the highest security level you can tolerate. Install antivirus, antispyware and firewall protection, and keep them up to date as well. When possible, use hardware firewalls, often available through your broadband connection router.

* If you use wireless Internet access, make sure you get help from someone who understands wireless security when you set up your access point or router.

* Back up your data and store it away from your computer.

* Don't open e-mails from strangers. Malware can be hidden in embedded attachments and graphics files.

* Don't open attachments unless you know who sent them and what they contain. Never open executable attachments. Configure Windows so that the file extensions of known file types are not hidden.

* Don't click on pop-ups. Configure Windows or your Web browser to block them.

* Don't provide your credit card number online unless you are making a purchase from a Web site you trust. Reputable sites will always direct you to a secure page with an URL starting with https:// whenever you actually make purchases or are asked to provide confidential information. (Tip: look for the yellow "lock" at the bottom of the screen).

* Use strong passwords: at least six characters, including at least one symbol and number, and no reference to your name or other personal information. Use a different password for every site that requires one, and change passwords regularly.

* Never send a user name, password or other confidential information via e-mail.

* Consider turning off your computer when you're not using it or at least putting it in standby mode.

* Don't keep passwords, tax returns or other financial information on your hard drive.


If you suspect your identity may be compromised, place a fraud alert with the three credit bureaus. When you place an alert, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. After that, take advantage of the free annual reports the bureaus are required to give all consumers. Stagger your requests so that you get a report every four months. Beware: A fraud alert applies only when someone tries to open a new line of credit. It won’t keep someone from using existing accounts.

* If you've been phished, contact the real bank or other company named in the fraudulent e-mail. You also may want to notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center and forward the e-mail to

If you are the victim of identity theft, take the following steps:

* Make an identity-theft report to the police. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Also, contact the office of your state's attorney general; you may be able to file a report there. Get copies of all this paperwork and keep them in a safe place.

* Close accounts that have been tampered with. Contact each company by phone and again by certified letter. Make sure the company notifies you in writing that the disputed charges have been erased. Document each conversation and keep all records.

* Place a seven-year fraud alert or a "freeze" on your credit reports.

* Begin the process of having the fraudulent information removed from your credit reports.

* Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. It cannot protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft, but it can help you pay the cost of reclaiming your financial identity. Be wary of identity theft protection services; the Consumer Federation of America has found they may not be worth the cost.

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