With security breaches at major retailers such as Barnes & Noble, it’s a reminder of how vulnerable we could be to identity fraud. Although many of us worry about online identity theft and fraud, common theft—a stolen purse or wallet—is still the easiest way for criminals to get the goods on you, says Joe Reynolds, a spokesperson for Travelers. As the holiday shopping season approaches, now’s the time to do your homework. Here are four of the top things you can do to protect yourself from theft and identify fraud this month and beyond.
Take stock of your wallet or purse contents. Before going shopping, think about how much information a thief would obtain if your wallet or purse was stolen. Don’t carry your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport unless absolutely necessary or extra credit cards unless you plan to use them.
Review your credit report now—and after the New Year. Reviewing your credit report is one of the easiest ways to see if anyone is fraudulently using your identity. Be sure to report mistakes to the credit bureaus. Federal law gives consumers the right to receive one free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Order a report today (in 2012) from one bureau and look for discrepancies. A couple months after the New Year (in 2013), order another report from a second bureau. Four months later (also in 2013), order a report from the third bureau. Doing this will enable you to see snapshots of your credit throughout the year at no cost. To order your free credit report that’s really free, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
Create a list of all your credit card and bank account information. Store it in a secure place. Be sure to include account numbers, expiration dates, and credit limits. Also include the telephone numbers or e-mails of the customer service and fraud departments. If you find your card missing or stolen, refer to this list and immediately notify your credit-card provider of the loss. This take-charge tactic not only prevents fraudulent charges, it notifies your provider if the card is used again.
Protect your passwords and PINS. When creating passwords and PINs, don’t use the last four digits of your Social Security number, mother's maiden name, your birth date, middle name, pet's name, consecutive numbers or anything else that thieves could easily discover. Create passwords that combine letters and numbers. Memorize all your passwords. If you record them, don't keep the list in your wallet.
For more ways to protect yourself from identity and other types of fraud, download Traveler’s free report, “Steps to take to avoid identify fraud.”