You can reduce your likelihood of becoming an identity theft victim, as well as cut down on unwanted sales pitches, by following these guidelines:
REMOVE YOURSELF FROM CONTACT LISTS
- Register for Do Not Call. You can register a personal phone number online at www.donotcall.gov if you have an email address or call 1-888-382-1222, from the telephone or cell phone number you want to register. Registration is free. Once you register, most telemarketers will have up to 31 days from the date you register to stop calling you. Political organizations, charities, surveyors and organizations that you have an established business relationship are permitted to contact you, even if you're registered. You cannot register a business number.
- Remove your address from marketing lists. Make a request to the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service online at www.dmachoice.org or mail this request form. You'll pay $1. The organization also operates an email preference service.
- Contact the three major credit bureaus and ask to "Opt Out" of the pre-approved credit lists they sell to companies. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or make the request online at www.optoutprescreen.com. Note that you will be asked for your Social Security number and birth date; the credit bureaus already have this information and the Web site is encrypted. However, if you choose not to provide your Social Security and birth date, the bureaus will attempt to process your request without this information. When making a request by phone you can say "No" when asked for your Social Security number or birth date. You will need to say "No" twice before the automated system accepts your request. Requests made online or by phone are valid for five years. You can also permanently remove your name from these lists by mailing a request using the form available at www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Contact your credit card companies to find out if any of your cardholder information can be given to partners or affiliates (third parties) of the card issuer. If so, ask for the address to write to cancel this authorization. You might want to use the phrase: "No third party solicitations."
CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT
- Order a free copy of your credit report from the only government-authorized Web site: www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. Other "free" credit report Web sites were designed to sell you products and services. You are allowed one report yearly from each of the three major participating bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. You may order all three at once. Or you may want to do your own monitoring by spacing them. Order one from TransUnion now. Four months later, order one form Experian. Then four months after that, order an Equifax report. Repeat the following year. The law doesn’t require the bureaus to provide a free credit score, the three-digit number lenders use to determine if you’re a good risk for a car loan, mortgage or credit card. You can buy it separately.
SAFEGUARD YOUR INFORMATION
- Do not give your Social Security number, mother's maiden name or account numbers to strangers who contact you, especially by phone, Internet or mail. Identity thieves sometimes pose as business, bank or government representatives to get you to reveal personal information. Legitimate financial or government organizations that do business with you already have this information and will not ask for it by calling you. Be conservative when filling out warranty cards, subscription forms, prize-drawing cards and Web site registration forms.
- Understand Web site privacy policies. Most quizzes and surveys you find online, including those on social networking sites, are designed to gather your information.
- Defend your computer with the latest software and a firewall and delete online cookies (the function usually appears under “Tools” in your Web browser.) WorldPrivacyForum.org has helpful information about how to opt-out of cookies, including downloading a type of file called, appropriately enough, an opt-out cookie. Marketing companies make these special opt-out cookies available to address privacy concerns. Another option is Network Advertising Initiative, a one-stop, opt-out system to crush certain types of not-so-savory cookies.
- Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's name, your birthdate, the last four digits of your Social Security Number, your phone number or an easy series of numbers such as 1234.
- Don't carry PIN numbers, birth certificates, Social Security cards or passports unless absolutely necessary. Do not carry credit cards or ID cards you don't need.
- Guard your mail from theft. Don't leave outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox. Use a locking mailbox or take it to a collection box or your local post office. Promptly remove mail after it has been delivered. If you are planning to be away from home, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
- Shred documents containing personal information.
- Tips for travelers.
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