Protecting your identity


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There are people who make a very good living by stealing and using other people’s identities. By having your personal information at their fingertips, they can get a credit card in your name, rack up an existing credit card, ruin your credit, or possibly get you arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. 

Identity theft by the numbers

The U.S. non-profit consumer organization, Consumers Union published a report in May 2009 with these stats:

  • 1 in 5 online consumers have been victims of cybercrime.
  • 1 in 13 households gave away personal information in response to “phishing” email.
  • 1 in 7 of those households lost money.
  • 1 in 12 households had computer problems related to spyware.
  • 1.7 million households were victims of ID theft committed over the Internet. 

Here are some ways to avoid identity theft:

  • Invest in software that blocks “malware” and online viruses.
  • Clear your web browser’s cookies and cache regularly if you bank or apply for loans online.
  • Save and file, or shred and throw out, any mail with your name and address on it. 
  • Combine letters and numbers in your PINs and passwords, and don’t use the same one for everything! Change your passwords every six to 12 months.
  • Change your address with the post office immediately if you move. This way, no mail will be delivered to your previous address, and possibly into the wrong hands.
  • Leave your Social Security card at home unless you need it that day.
  • Really DO conceal your PIN-punching fingers by using your other hand as a shield. It’s not just for the person behind you, but also for illicit video cameras that could be recording your movements.
  • Never trust any financial institution or company email asking you to confirm passwords, account information or any personal information. Your credit union would never ask you for that information by email. If there is any problem with your account, you’ll receive a phone call or mail (that paper stuff).
  • Set your browser to the highest security setting; check in the preferences menu.
  • If you haven’t received any mail for a while, check with the post office to make sure a fraudulent change of address form hasn’t been submitted.
  • Never, ever, ever trust a “Nigerian financier” who emails you asking to help transfer funds.

If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft: 

  • Report it to the police and get a copy of the report and report number.
  • Contact all creditors, financial institutions and utilities. Close affected accounts and open new ones with a completely different PIN and password.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at the Identity Theft Hotline at 877-438-4338. Also visit the Federal Trade Commission to obtain an ID Theft Affidavit. This allows you to report ID theft to several companies simultaneously.