But we should all take steps to reduce our exposure and the odds that our ID and financial information will be fraudulently used... or at least increase the odds that we'll notice any problems quickly.
Our theme for today is the 4 R's: Review, Reduce, Record, Report (just like you learned when you were a kid! :-)
[as I was writing this, the post became really long so I've broken it up into 2 parts]
Review - your credit report. You are entitled to 1 free report from each of the big 3 credit reporting agencies each year. So, spread it out and get 1 every 4 months. The US FTC endorsed site to get these reports is www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also put a fraud alert on your account as we discussed last time.
You're also entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you:
- are unemployed and applying for work
- receiving public assistance
- believe your file contains inaccurate information due to fraud, or
- have been denied credit or insurance in the past 60 days.
Review - your bills. We all get piles of bills. It's easy to just pay the bill, particularly credit card bills that might have many lines of charges. The review might even be less convenient if you only get an electronic copy of the bill, or need to log in to a separate web site to view the bill.
Check to make sure that the statement makes sense - did you buy that item?, shop at that store?, or eat at that restaurant? Did you not receive a bill for one of your cards? Did you receive a bill for a card you don't even own??? (in this last case, go back to the 3rd post in this series).
If something doesn't look right, contact the biller and figure it out.. Note that, unfortunately, many orgs that accept credit cards actually process them from a different place. This can be for a variety of reasons such as that the merchant is from out of town (like art fairs or kiosks) or that the organization processes cards through their home office.
Reduce - the number of cards you carry. In fact, reduce the number of cards you own! Consider using a separate card for online transactions. Cut up your old cards, especially if they are not expired, for instance if you are sent a new card.
Some people have said that you should not sign the back of your card but instead write: "please ask for picture ID". It's an interesting idea because a US photo id will have your photo to verify who you are, plus a signature to verify the signature. That seems to make sense, but I've also heard that merchants won't accept an unsigned card. The signature is supposed to be something only you can duplicate... if it were only so! And, of course, with all the electronic signature pads or even "sign with your finger"... I don't know about you, but my signature usually looks like a toddler scribble on those things! Here's an article with more info.
Reduce - don't ever carry your social security number, birth certificate or passport unless you specifically need them.
Reduce - the amount of personal information you give out. Your personal information should only be given out on a "need to know" basis! Don't put your US social security number or other ID numbers on checks. When someone asks for your social security number, ask why they need it.
And don't forget about phone-based fraud. If someone calls you, stating they are from your bank, a merchant, law enforcement, insurance, etc., unless you actually know them and recognize their voice, then don't give out your identifying information. They called you! They should already know the info! Instead, take their name, phone number and identifier (if applicable) and then... call back using a number you have, or look up separately, not the number they gave you. And don't rely on caller-ID as it can be faked. This is especially important if the call comes from a "fraud dept" or "law enforcement" and you are being asked to verify information. Fraudsters will use fear or intimidation tactics to get your info. Don't give our your info on the phone unless you made the call, or already know the other party.
Reduce - to little pieces! Shred your credit card receipts, bills (after you pay them!), unneeded medical or insurance forms, pre-approved credit offers, or any other unneeded papers with ID numbers or personal info.
Record - Know what's in your wallet or purse. Here's something you can try:
Make a copy of, or write down, the info from all the personal identifiers you carry in your wallet or purse like credit cards, driver's or other licenses, ID cards, etc. Then keep that in a safe place at home. Then, if your wallet is lost or stolen you'll know what is missing and who to contact! This is also a great thing to do if you will be traveling.Report - If something gets stolen or misused, report it. That means calling the card or ID issuer, the police, or other agency depending upon what happened. Timely reporting will help you later if you need to construct a timeline around ID Fraud as we discussed last time.
Check back next time for the rest of the tips!