Preventing identity theft

It’s important to understand identity theft and to take steps to protect yourself. Consider these prevention tips:

General Fraud Prevention Tips

• Carry only necessary information with you. Leave your Social Security card or unused credits cards at home in a safe and secure location.
• Protect your Social Security number. Don’t write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
• Limit paper statements.
• Shred account statements or documents containing personal or financial information before discarding.
• Review your credit report at least once a year, looking for suspicious or unknown transactions.
• Limit the credit offers you receive.
• Remove your name from marketing lists.
• Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a Web address you know.
• Keep your personal information in a secure place at home.

Card safety: ATM, debit and credit cards

• Report lost or stolen cards immediately to the company that issued you the card.
• To help you respond quickly in case your cards or ID are lost or stolen, keep a written list of all your credit and bank cards along with the customer service numbers. Be sure to store the list in a safe place. Never carry it with you.
• Sign your card on the signature panel as soon as you receive it.
• Protect your cards as if they were cash — never let them out of your possession or control.
• Do not include your card number in an email.
• Do not give out your card number over the phone unless you initiated the call.
• Be sure that you get your card back after every purchase.
• Don’t leave your credit cards in your car’s glove compartment. A high percentage of credit card thefts are from car glove compartments.
• Don’t lend your cards — credit, debit, or ATM — to anyone. You are responsible for their use. Don’t let your credit cards be used by others, even family and friends.
• Choose a PIN that is easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess. Don’t use any numbers or words that appear in your wallet (name, birth date, phone number, etc).
• Never tell anyone your PIN. No one from a financial institution, the police, or a merchant should ask for your PIN. You are the only person who needs to know it.
• Don’t volunteer any personal information when you use your cards, other than by displaying personal identification as requested by a merchant.
• Never write down your personal identification number (PIN) — memorize it. Don’t write down your account number and PIN and carry it with you. If your wallet or purse is stolen, someone else could have access to your money.
• When typing in your pin, cover the keypad so others can’t see.
• When selecting a PIN, avoid picking a number that is easy for others to guess — for example, your name, telephone number, date of birth, or any simple combination of these.
• Always make sure that sales vouchers are for the correct purchase amount before you sign them.
• Always keep copies of your sales vouchers, credit card, and Automated Teller Machine (ATM) receipts.
• Always check your billing statement to make sure the purchase amounts are correct and to ensure there are no suspicious charges. Contact your service provider immediately if you see a charge you don’t recognize.
• Always put disputes regarding your billing statements in writing immediately upon becoming aware of the disputed item; otherwise, you may be held legally responsible for the entire amount of the disputed item. Many credit card issuers have specific instructions for notifying them of a billing error dispute. Read your credit card agreement and billing statements carefully for information regarding dispute notification requirements. You may also contact your credit card issuer to ask about their dispute notification requirements.
• Shred or destroy your ATM receipts before you throw them away.
• Keep your cards away from magnets; these can erase the information stored on your card.
• If you receive a replacement card, destroy your old card. Destroy cards for cancelled accounts.
• Shop with merchants you know and trust. Make sure internet purchases are secured with encryption to protect your account information. Look for “secure transaction” symbols.

ATM Security Tips

• Think about your personal safety when using an ATM. Because most ATMs give out cash and many accept deposits, it makes sense to be alert and aware of your surroundings no matter where or when you use an ATM. When you’re by yourself, avoid using an ATM in out-of-the-way or deserted areas. Use ATMs located inside banks or supermarkets where other people are around. Use ATMs in well-lit, public areas.
• Be aware of your surroundings when withdrawing funds. If your notice anything out of the ordinary, come back later or use another ATM.
• If it looks like someone has tampered with the ATM equipment, don’t use it. (This could mean that a criminal has attached a “skimmer” to the ATM to steal your financial information.) If a suspicious person offers to help you use the ATM, refuse and leave.
• When typing in your pin, cover the keypad so others can’t see.
• After completing your transaction, remember to remove your card, cash and any printed documents such as receipts or statements.
• Put your money and ATM card away before you leave the ATM. Always avoid showing your cash. Always verify that the amount you withdrew or deposited matches the amount printed on your receipt.
• Take your receipts with you so potential criminals will not know how much you withdrew or how much money is in your account.
• When using a drive-up ATM, keep your car doors locked and your engine running.
Mail precautions
• If you stop receiving mail, call the post office immediately.
• Notify the post office immediately if you change your address.
• Get a mailbox that you must unlock with a key to remove your mail.
• Remove your incoming mail promptly.
• Don’t leave your mail for long periods of time in visible, unguarded areas (e.g., apartment lobbies).
• If you’re out of town, put a hold on your mail delivery or have a person you trust pick it up.
• Consider enrolling in an electronic payment service to reduce the risk of theft of your outgoing checks.
• Reduce your risk of mail fraud by replacing paper invoices, statements and checks with electronic versions, if offered by your employer, bank, utility provider or merchant.
• Review your statements both in paper and online to detect suspicious activity and fraud.
• Don’t put outgoing mail in your residential mailbox. It could be stolen. Put outgoing mail in a secure USPS mail box or hand it directly to a uniformed USPS mail carrier.
• If you use the red flags found on some mailboxes to alert your mail carrier of outgoing mail, you are also alerting potential thieves that outgoing mail is in the box.
• Know your billing and statement cycles. If a company’s regular bills or statements stop reaching you, contact that company immediately.
• Use an electronic bill pay service to help keep your information safe.
• If you stop receiving mail, call the post office immediately. Some criminals are able to forge your signature and have your mail forwarded elsewhere for the purpose of obtaining information that will allow them to apply for credit in your name.
• If you’re told of a forwarding order placed on your mail without your knowledge, go to the post office to check the signature and cancel the order. Ask the post office to track down the forwarded mail — it can remain in the postal system for up to 14 days, so it may not yet have landed in the criminal’s hands.

Bank Account Security Tips

• Report lost or stolen checks immediately.
• Review account statements carefully. Ask about suspicious charges.
• Enroll in online account statements if they’re offered through your bank. Review them periodically for faster fraud detection.
• Limit the amount of information on checks. Don’t print your driver’s license number or Social Security Number on your checks.
• Store new and cancelled checks in a safe and secure location. Shred cancelled checks when you no longer need them.

Mobile Banking Security Tips

• Frequently delete text messages with account balance information, and especially before loaning out, discarding, or selling your mobile device.
• Never disclose via text message any personal information (account numbers, passwords, etc.).
• Use the keypad lock or phone lock function on your mobile device when it is not in use. These functions password protect your device so that nobody else can use it or view your information.
• Store your device in a secure location.
• Let your bank know as soon as possible if you lose your mobile device or change your phone number.

Telephone Safety

• Don’t give your account number over the phone unless you initiated the call.
• When you purchase by phone, for maximum security, use a corded, rather than cordless phone.
• If you’re contacted by a telephone salesperson (or “telemarketer”), ask questions. The fewer questions a telemarketer can answer, the less likely that it’s a legitimate business. Write down the name, address, and phone number of the businesses or organizations that contact you. Ask for the names of other customers who can tell you about their experience with the business or organization.

Online Safety

• Keep your computer operating system up to date to ensure the highest level of protection.
• Use an up to date web browser.
• Install a personal firewall on your computer.
• Install, run, and keep anti-virus software updated.
• Avoid downloading programs from unknown sources.
• Never use your Social Security Number as your username to sign into online accounts.
• Never set your username to be the same as your password.
• Protect your online passwords. Don’t write them down or share them with anyone.
• Use secure, encrypted web sites for transactions and shopping.
• Always log off from any banking, e-commerce or merchant web site. If you cannot log off, shut down your browser to prevent unauthorized access to your account information.
• Completely shut down your computer when you’re not using it. Don’t leave it in sleep mode.
• Don’t send identifying personal information, such as account numbers, credit card numbers, or PINs via email. Financial institutions will never send you an email asking for this type of information.
• Select one credit card with a low credit limit to use for all your online purchases. Tell your credit card provider that you do not want them to raise the limit on this card without your prior written permission.
• Never download files or click on hyperlinks in emails from people or companies you don’t know.
If someone’s asking you to buy
• Unless you initiated the contact, never give out confidential information (such as account numbers, Social Security number, or mother’s maiden name) to anyone.
• Be cautious when you receive offers to buy over the telephone, by mail, or on the Internet. Be especially careful about deals that sound too good to be true. Some of these offers may be illegal scams designed to cheat you. Don’t respond to calls or emails requesting your account information to “award a prize” or “verify a statement.”
• Beware of high-pressure sales people, especially if they tell you the sale must be made now.
• When in doubt, consult the Better Business Bureau or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Home Safety

• Be wary of strangers you allow into your home. Don’t leave sensitive information, credit cards or checkbooks lying around.
• Store your new and cancelled checks securely.
• Keep your Social Security card in a secure place.
• Photocopy your driver’s license, credit cards, car registration, Social Security card and other identification, and keep the copies in a safe place.
• Shred unnecessary financial documents, old bank statements, invoices, and unwanted pre-approved credit offers. If possible, buy a shredder and mix the shredded paper thoroughly before throwing it out.
Monitor your financial activity
• Review your account statements as soon as you receive them. Notify the financial institution immediately if you notice errors or unauthorized activity.
• If your account statement is late in arriving, call your financial institution to find out why.
• Consider signing up for online banking. This will allow you to monitor your account activity at any time.
• Never tell anyone your online banking password and change it periodically.
• Check your credit report for accuracy at least twice a year. If a report lists unfamiliar accounts with large credit lines, you may be a victim of identity theft. Also review the “Inquiries” section of your reports. It tells you who has reviewed your credit history. If a car dealer in another part of the country has pulled your credit report, for example, you may be the victim of identity theft.