BBB: Protect your personal information from identity thieves

Identity theft is serious problem. If they get your sensitive information, criminals could drain your bank account, change your contact information on various accounts, use your credit card, set up new credit cards or bank accounts in your name and more.

You should do what you can to prevent this from happening, because ID theft incidents are hard to clean up once they happen. Here are a few tips to reduce your chance of becoming a victim:

Social Security Number: Be careful about sharing your Social Security Number. Ask why it is needed, how it will be used and what will happen if you refuse. Don’t carry your Social Security card with you on a daily basis. Leave it at home in a secure location.

Passwords: Always select unique passwords. Avoid using your name, birth date, or the last four digits of your SSN, or any easy sequence of numbers – such as 1122. Do not carry these numbers in your wallet, purse or smartphone. Consider using a pass phrase–a sentence or combination of words that’s easy to remember, but harder for a hacker to guess.

Mailbox: Place outgoing mail in a secure mailbox. If you do not have a locked mailbox, pick up incoming mail as soon as possible.

Storage: Never store private documents in unsecured locations, such as your car or office. At home, invest in a fireproof lock box or safe to store important documents.

Shred Documents: Avoid storing documents that contain personal information you no longer need including: credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms, and other billing statements. Shred all unnecessary documents that contain personal information; garbage cans are goldmines for identity thieves.

Receipts and Bank Statements: Monitor bank and credit card statements for fraudulent activity. Know what dates your bills arrive. Late or missing bills can indicate your information has been compromised.

Credit and Debit Cards: Sign and write “check photo ID” on new credit cards as soon as you receive them. Do not carry more than needed. Cut up expired credit and debit cards. Report lost, missing and stolen cards to the issuer immediately.

Credit Report: Check your credit report annually. Under the Fair & Accurate Credit Transaction Act, consumers are entitled to a free annual credit report. The only authorized source is (1-877-322-8228).

Online Security: A few quick steps can keep your information safe when surfing the Web:

  • Enter information only on secured websites that have “https” in the address. The “s” lets you know it is a secure site.
  • Do not respond to unsolicited emails or center information on unknown sites.
  • Use your credit card, you can dispute fraudulent charges with the issuer.
  • If you are a regular online shopper, consider having a separate account for online purchases.