10 Ways to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

In our previous post, we talked about iProtect – an identity protection service available to our members and their families. In the event of identity theft, iProtect is there to assist you through the entire process – from beginning to end. However, there are many things you can do now to protect yourself and your assets.

Keep copies
This is the easiest you can do, yet most of us fail to do it. Make a photocopy or keep a record of your credit/debit cards, bank accounts and investments, including account numbers, appropriate expiration dates and telephone numbers. Keep the information in a secure place – like a fireproof safe or a safety deposit bank in a financial institution.

Carry less
Go through your wallet and leave the important documents at home – social security card, birth certificate, passport, etc. Carry only the credit/debit cards you plan on using and leave the rest behind.

Keep your receipts
Never dispose of your credit/debit card receipts in a public trash container. Identity thieves will go “dumpster diving” for such vulnerable documents and compromise your privacy. This leads me to the next tip.

Shred it right
Visit your local office supply store and invest in a decent cross-cut shredder, NOT a straight-cut shredder. Identity thieves may still be able to gather your information by organizing and putting together straight-cut shredded documents. Make sure you always cross-cut shred any expired/unwanted debit/credit cards, receipts, financial documents, address labels or other documents that contain personal information.

Be stingy
If someone requests personal/identifiable information over the phone, by email or on the internet, refuse to release the information. Only provide such data to those sources you have a trusted relationship with or if you have initiated contact.

Know your rights
Under California law (Civil Code sec. 1725) your credit card number cannot be written on your checks. This law is meant to protect you (the consumer) from fraud, so practice it.

Extra tip: Use a gel pen to complete financial documents, write checks or for signatures. Gel ink is known to be more counterfeit proof since it contains small particles of color that become trapped in paper.

Protect you mail
If you’re waiting for a new credit card, watch the mail. Contact the issuer if your new card does not arrive in the expected time frame. Other things you can do to protect your mail: Install a locked mailbox or use a PO Box. If you plan to leave your home for an extended period, always ask the post office to hold your mail at their office.

Extra tip: If you’re ordering new checks, place the PO Box address on your checks and pick them up at your financial institution or have them mailed to your PO Box.

Keep your bills safe
If you’re mailing out any type of bill, check or financial document, make sure you use a secure drop box within the post office. Remember, checks can be altered and then cashed by an identity thief.

Monitor your credit
You have the right to obtain one free credit report each year from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Order a credit report once a year to look out for any suspicious activity.

Extra tip: Space out your credit report requests so you receive one report from each credit bureau every 4 months.

Technology is your friend
Use home banking and bill pay and check your online accounts frequently. By using secure and trusted sites online, you lessen the amount of bills and statements mailed to your home. You also have the ability to catch discrepancies on your financial statements early on.

Things to know
If you become a victim of credit card fraud, you may be liable for no more than the first $50 of the loss. Debit cards have less protection against fraud so always check your statements and keep the tips above in mind.

Check out this list of additional resources:
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
California Office of Privacy Protection
Identity Theft Resource Center
Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Site

List of credit reporting agencies:
Equifax (888) 766-0008
Experian (888) 397-3742
TransUnion (800) 680-7289

To order a free annual credit report:
By phone: (877) 322-8228
Online: www.annualcreditreport.com

About the Author

Alejandra Gutierrez Alex is the new Social Media Specialist for the ILWU Credit Union. She's a 'nerd' at heart who enjoys community building. Her obsessions: baked goods and old mariachi ballads.