Internet False Identification Prevention Act, enacted in 2000, have also been put into effect. Contact your state attorney general’s office to find out whether your state has laws related to identity theft or visit www.consumer.gov.
Once you become a victim, it can take months — or even years — to restore your financial standing. Some experts say you can never fully prevent identity theft, no matter how cautious you are. But here’s what you can do to minimize the risks:
- Shred all important documents, including pre-approved offers of credit, credit card receipts, cancelled checks, and other financial records. Thieves can use improperly discarded documents to apply for credit in your name. To completely opt out of receiving credit offers, call 888-5-OPTOUT.
- Pay attention to billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills do not arrive on time.
- Find out how personal information will be used before releasing it. With so many requests for personal information, always find out if it will be shared with others. In the case of an employer, find out how your information will be protected.
- Don’t give out sensitive financial information. When you’re on a cellular or cordless phone, especially if it’s an older model, keep financial information private.
- Guard your Social Security number. Many institutions rely on Social Security numbers as passwords. Remove anything with your Social Security number from your wallet or purse. Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary; when possible, ask to use other types of identification. Call 800-772-1213 to check your Social Security statement or the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline, at 800-269-0271, to report a Social Security number that has been stolen or misused.
- Get a credit report from one of the three credit bureaus once a year to check for accuracy. A credit check for an unfamiliar loan or lease could be a sign a thief is casing your credit history. If you detect anything suspicious, contact the credit bureau’s fraud department and ask them to put a fraud alert on your record. This will make it more difficult for someone to open accounts in your name. Unless you’re a victim of identity theft or have been denied credit within 60 days, you may have to pay for this report. To order a credit report, contact Equifax (www.equifax.com, 800-685-1111); Experian (www.experian .com, 888-397-3742); or TransUnion (www.tuc.com 800-888-4213).
- Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Limit the forms of identity you carry in your wallet. If your ID card, credit cards, or debit cards are stolen, notify your financial institutions immediately and call the credit bureaus to request that a fraud alert be placed in your file.
- Make certain you are dealing with a legitimate company when shopping online. Research the company with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer protection agency. Check to see if there is a working telephone number and e-mail address for the merchant’s customer service department.
- Find out if you are using a secure browser. When you’re ready to make a purchase and are asked for personal information, look at the