One of the fastest growing crimes in the United States is identity theft. This crime, in its various forms will affect nearly 25 percent of the population. There are a number of simple steps you can take to protect your identity. The time it takes to secure your personal information will be well worth the effort shoud an identity thief decide to target you.
1. Secure all paperwork and tax documents. Keep these items in a safe location at home, well hidden from prying eyes. Never leave the items in a briefcase or in your car. Don't store them in a computer unless it's secure and password protected or encrypted.
2. Disposal of documents. Did anyone ever mention a shredder to you. Sounds silly but some people think a saavy thief will simply pull your trash and tape all those pieces of paper back together. Probably not -too much trouble. But if you're one of those who's afraid someone will, you can mix the shredded paper up into several trash bags and place them out in the trash on different days.
3. Tax returns. Your Federal Form 1040 and Maryland Form 502, among others, contain a wealth of information. If you don't prepare your own taxes, please use a reputable tax person or company, preferably someone you or a trusted friend has dealt with in the past. Never leave your tax forms where anyone can pick them up. When possible, e-file and use direct deposit if you anticapate a refund. Please note that there are e-mail tax scams from legitimate looking IRS web sites. The Internal Revenue Service will never initiate a communication with a taxpayer via an e-mail. The official web site for the IRS is: http://www.irs.gov/.
4. Bank statements. Here is your name, address and bank account number in one neat envelope. Guard it. Know when your statement arrives in the mail and try to be there to greet it. Bank on-line if you can. Use direct deposit. Most banks that offier these services have a secure site to prevent hackers. You can imagine the damage to them if their site was illegally hacked, so they will do everything possible to protect their customer.
5. Credit cards. Another item which to carefully guard. Credit card numbers are the most frequent of all items stolen. A thief can rack up thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise in a matter of minutes. Check and re-check your monthly statements. Do not give out your card numbers to ANYONE who contacts you first, whether it be by e-mail, phone or in person. Remember, a credit card company, like the bank, will not contact you and ask for personal information, such as account numbers, saying there is a problem. THEY will already know your account number. A legitimate caller from a bank or credit card company will want to protect their assets as well as yours and they will give you a call-back number for verification purposes.
6. Check your credit history. You are entitled to this yearly. Use it. The three credit reporting companies are:
Equifax 1-800-525- 6285 http://www.equifax.com/
Experian (formerly TRW) 1-888-387-3742 http://www.experian.com/
TransUnion Corp 1-800-680-7289 http://www.transunion.com/
7. Suspicious e-mails. You can send the spam to your ISP or if you suspect someone is trying to "phish" consumer information about your accounts, you can forward the e-mails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
8. Additional Contacts. Federal Trade Commission: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft or 1-877-IDTHEFT.