Things You Need to Know about Protecting Your Identity
[Portions of the following information
courtesy of the United States Federal Trade Commission]
theft protection is an increasingly complex subject, covering social
security numbers, credit cards, banking information, passwords and
much more. In today's high-tech environment, identity thieves have
numberous ways of stealing your identity. The information below
should be helpful in protecting yourself from identity theft and
keeping your information safe.
When should I give out my Social Security number?
Your employer and financial institutions will need your Social Security
number for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may
ask you for your Social Security number to do a credit check if you
are applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for
utilities. Sometimes, however, they simply want your Social Security
number for general record keeping. Many of these businesses do
not provide adequte protection from identity theft. If someone asks for
your Social Security number, ask:
- Why do you need my Social Security number?
- How will my Social Security number be used?
- How do you protect my Social Security number from being stolen?
- What will happen if I don't give you my Social Security number?
- What security measures do you use to protect me from identity
If you don't provide your Social Security number, some businesses
may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting
satisfactory answers to these questions will help you decide whether
you want to share your Social Security number with the business.
The decision to share is yours.
Personally, I do give my Social Security number out to anyone unless
I know it is absolutely necessary. Do not give your Social Security
number to doctors, dentists and other service providers who routinely
ask for it--they don't need it and most of them do not provide adequate
protection of your information.
Are companies allowed to print my entire credit card number
on my receipt?
Beginning December 5, 2006, companies must not print your credit or debit card
expiration date or more than the last 5 digits of your card number on your electronic
receipt. The law doesl allow receipts that are hand written
or mechanically imprinted to show your entire number and expiration date, even
after December 4, 2006. Note: The law does not prohibit companies from printing
your full credit card number on the receipt they keep, which is where your information
is most at risk. As many as third of all the merchant copies of
receipts I check have the entire credit card number on them. You need to black
out your credit number on the merchant's receipt before giving it back to them.
You have the right to do this, and they cannot prevent you from doing it. I
do it all the time, and if the person behind the counter looks puzzled I explain
why I'm doing it. [more]
Other ways to protect your identity information
Place passwords on your credit
card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information
like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits
of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series
of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that
many businesses still have a line on their applications for your
mother's maiden name. Ask them if you can use a password instead.
Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have
roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
Ask about identity information security procedures in your
workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions
that collect your personally identifying information. Find
out who has access to your personal information and verify that
it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those
records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with
anyone else. If so, ask how your information can be kept confidential.
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the
mail, or on the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or
are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves
are clever, and have posed as representatives of banks, Internet
service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people
to reveal their Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account
numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any
personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate
organization. Check an organization's website by typing its URL
in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Many companies
post scam alerts when their name is used improperly. Or call customer
service using the number listed on your account statement or in
the telephone book.
Treat your mail and trash carefully
Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or
at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly
remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from
home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at
1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will
hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up
or are home to receive it.
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling
bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your
charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms,
physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge
cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. To opt
out of receiving offers of credit in the mail, call: 1-888-5-OPTOUT
(1-888-567-8688). The three nationwide consumer reporting companies
use the same toll-free number to let consumers choose not to receive
credit offers based on their lists. Note: You will
be asked to provide your Social Security number which the consumer
reporting companies need to match you with your file.
Don't carry your Social Security number card; leave it in
a secure place
Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary,
and ask to use other types of identifiers. If your state uses your
Social Security number as your driver's license number, ask to substitute
another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses
your Social Security number as your policy number.
Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit
cards that you'll actually need when you go out.
Be cautious when responding to promotions. Identity thieves may
create phony promotional offers to get you to give them your personal
Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work; do the same
with copies of administrative forms that have your sensitive personal
When ordering new checks, pick them up from the bank instead of
having them mailed to your home mailbox.
I have a computer and use the Internet. What should I be
You may be careful about locking your doors and windows, and keeping
your personal papers in a secure place. Depending on what you use
your personal computer for, an identity thief may not need to set
foot in your house to steal your personal information. You may store
your Social Security number, financial records, tax returns, birth
date, and bank account numbers on your computer. These tips can help
you keep your computer – and the personal information it stores – safe.
Virus protection software should be updated regularly, and patches
for your operating system and other software programs should be installed
to protect against intrusions and infections that can lead to the
compromise of your computer files or passwords. Ideally, virus protection
software should be set to automatically update each week. The Windows
XP operating system also can be set to automatically check for patches
and download them to your computer.
Do not open files sent to you by strangers, or click on hyperlinks
or download programs from people you don't know. Be careful about
using file-sharing programs. Opening a file could expose your system
to a computer virus or a program known as "spyware," which could
capture your passwords or any other information as you type it into
Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet
connection like cable, DSL or T-1 that leaves your computer connected
to the Internet 24 hours a day. The firewall program will allow you
to stop uninvited access to your computer. Without it, hackers can
take over your computer, access the personal information stored on
it, or use it to commit other crimes.
Use a secure browser – software that encrypts or scrambles
information you send over the Internet – to guard your online
transactions. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption
capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer.
You also can download some browsers for free over the Internet. When
submitting information, look for the "lock" icon on the browser's
status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.
Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless
absolutely necessary. If you do, use a strong password with a combination of
letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. A good way to
create a strong password is to think of a memorable phrase and use
the first letter of each word as your password, converting some letters
into numbers that resemble letters. For example, "I love Felix; he's
a good cat," would become 1LFHA6c. Don't use an automatic log-in
feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off
when you're finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it's harder
for a thief to access your personal information.
Before you dispose of a computer, delete all the personal information
it stored. Deleting files using the keyboard or mouse commands or
reformatting your hard drive may not be enough because the files
may stay on the computer's hard drive, where they may be retrieved
easily. Use a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard
Look for website privacy policies. They should answer questions
about maintaining accuracy, access, security, and control of personal
information collected by the site, how the information will be used,
and whether it will be provided to third parties. If you don't see