January 27 2009|11.58 AM UTC

David Tu

Top 5 Ways to Immediately Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , ,

identity-theft

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I was a victim of identity theft. At first, I thought it was a poorly constructed joke by family members (haha, we got you sucka!), but the situation turned out to be real enough and the identity theft became a real hassle to resolve.

Though I have taken certain precautions during that time to protect my identity, I’ve since realized that there are additional steps I could have taken. Here are five ways you can immediately protect your identity:

1. Ditch any unnecessary personal information or passwords in wallet or purse

Ever carry around that little slip of paper with passwords to certain accounts? Get rid of them. If you also carry your Social Security card with you in your wallet, you should remove it and place it in a safe location. If may be convienient to have these information around when you need them, but placing all your sensitive personal information in one place makes it a gold mine for identity thieves — you simply run the risk of giving it all away when you accidentally lose your wallet or have it stolen.

2. Safeguard your Social Security number

Simply put, your Social Security number provides a quick access into your identity. It is not a number you should give away freely or carelessly.

There is no law preventing businesses from asking you for your Social Security number, but you should take note that many times, you can simply say no when a business ask you for your numbers (granted you may not be able to use their service). Legitimate need for your Social Security number from businesses are those that have transactions dealing with taxes, thus banks, brokerages, employers are likely candidates.

Any businesses that request for your Social Security number should be able to give a legitimate, reasonable answer in why they need your number. If they can’t or won’t provide you with the information, consider not doing business with them.

3. Be safe with your paper mails

This goes beyond preventing that pesky neighbor from stealing your monthly magazine subscription. You should always empty your mailbox quickly as to prevent a thief easy access to personal information. If your mailbox can’t be changed into a lockable one due to silly housing association rules, consider using a postal office box if you receive frequent mail with sensitive information.

If you’re going on vacation, consider placing a vacation hold on your mail. You can do this by going to USPS’s website. This will prevent an accumulation of your mail, often a sure-sign that a household is away. If need be, ask a trusted friend or relative to come pick up your mail,and clear away any accumulated newspaper subscriptions while you’re away.

4. Use online account services

If you’re comfortable with online access, having an online account at your bank or credit card’s official site can come in handy spotting suspicious or erroneous transactions and activities well before you get your monthly statement. This allows you to immediately request more information from your bank so that they can investigate any potential identity theft issues.

You should also consider switching to paperless statements. This reduces additional paper mail with personal information that you’ll need to shred or stored away carefully. This option works best for those that can take the additional steps to safeguard their computer and is comfortable with banking online.

5. Check your credit report regularly

All of us are entitled to a free credit report annually from the three major credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Spread these free credit report request through out the year, requesting a copy from one agency in January, another in May, and finally the last copy in September.

If you see accounts or activities that you don’t recognize in your credit report, take immediate action and contact the creditor in question or the credit report agency for more information.

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