Identity theft is increasingly prevalent. It is important to be aware of certain red flags to prevent yourself from being a victim.
First and foremost, recognize that companies will NEVER contact you requesting your personal information. If a company contacts you reporting problems with your account or with a billing issue, hang up or do not respond to the email. Instead, call the company using phone numbers provided to you in your billing information. The company will be able to verify whether or not the call was valid- chances are it is a scam. Only provide personal information if YOU were the one who initiated the call.
It is also possible for identity thieves to obtain your information through your checks and credit cards. Some precautionary steps you should take include the following:
1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
2. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number.
3. Put your work phone or cell phone number on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your Social Security number or driver's license number printed on your checks. You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
4. Make copies of everything in your wallet. Copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopies in a safe place. Also carry a photocopy of your passport when you travel either here or abroad.
5. Always shred obsolete documents that contain account numbers or any other personal information. Identity theives often look through trash to find such information.
Here's some critical steps to take to limit the damage in case you or someone you know has become a victim of identity theft:
1. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your personal items were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there is one).
2. You may also contact the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's ID Theft Unit to report it and seek help. Their toll free, 24-hour ID theft hotline is 1-855-443-3489.
3. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Call the three national credit reporting bureaus immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. Also notify the Federal Trade Commission, (FTC).
Here are the numbers to the three credit bureaus and the FTC:
1) Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
2) Experian: 1-888-397-3742
3) Trans Union: 1-800-916-8800
4) FTC,(ID Theft Hotline): 1-877-438-4338
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