Question: A friend of mine was recently the victim of identity theft. What are some ways to prevent identity theft?
Answer: Identity theft is on the rise. According to the Federal Trade Commission, reported incidences increased by 13 percent last year making it the No. 1 complaint filed by consumers. But there are ways to protect your identity and keep yourself from becoming a victim.
First, never keep your Social Security card or any family member's Social Security card in your wallet. If your wallet or purse is stolen, providing the thief access to your Social Security number provides access to your identity. Make sure other cards you are carrying do not have your Social Security number on them. If so, remove the cards from your wallet or call the card issuer and ask for the Social Security number to be removed or truncated.
Keep identifying information on checks at a minimum, and never include your Social Security number.
Also, when mailing bills, drop them off at a post office location or official U.S. postal mailbox, rather than leaving them in your mailbox at home for the letter carrier to pick up. Most account statements contain personal information and account numbers. Identity thieves may scour neighborhoods looking for outgoing mail with personal information. Thieves may also target incoming mail. You may want to reconsider having checks mailed to your home and instead pick them at a bank location.
Remove receipts from your car. It's easy to shove receipts into the console of your car, but it's also easy for someone to steal the receipts and have access to account information. If you carry around credit cards that you don't use, remove them from your wallet, eliminating a potential risk.
Only provide personal information over the phone if you initiated the call. If someone calls you seeking information, do not provide it to them. This will prevent you from becoming a victim of a scam.
Consumers who own a smartphone may be at more of a risk for identity theft. The FTC found that 7 percent of smartphone owners were a victim of identity fraud and a recent study found that only 57 percent of iPhone apps encrypt the data collected. If you use a smartphone, make sure you update to the new operating system when it becomes available. Also, set a password on your home screen, so if your phone is lost or stolen, your personal information is not readily accessible. Avoid saving any type of login information on the phone.
Routinely obtain your credit report (www.annualcreditreport.com) and review it for any accounts you do not recognize. Report anything that you believe is fraudulent. Also, if you are the victim of identity theft, file a police report, which may help you with your creditors when disputing accounts opened without your authorization.
Keeping personal information secure and safely disposing of old documents can help prevent identity theft. Shred all documents containing any type of personal information. Savvy identity theft criminals will search through trash for personal information. Also, physically destroy flash drives containing personal information and wipe out the hard drives of old computers before disposing or donating them. Wipe data from old cell phones by performing a factory reset.
In conjunction with Protect Your Identity Week, Advantage CCS is hosting a free shred in the parking lot of River Park Commons at 2403 Sidney St. on the South Side on Saturday. A professional shred truck will be on site to collect and shred personal documents. The free event is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Heather Murray is manager of education and resource development for Advantage Credit Counseling Service (dba Consumer Credit Counseling Service). Visit www.advantageccs.org. If you have money or credit management questions, email Ms. Murray at email@example.com. Provide your name, address and daytime telephone number with all inquiries. Ms. Murray tries to reply to all inquiries but, because of the volume of questions she receives, she cannot always respond.