Identity Theft Prevention

Like many crimes, identity theft is a crime of opportunity.  Eliminating the opportunity goes a long way towards preventing the crime.  Several ways to eliminate opportunities include:

      -     Safeguard your Social Security Number (SSN) and driver’s license number

      -     Shred any paper work containing your personal information before discarding 

      -     Do not provide personal information to strangers

      -     Do not send mail containing personal information from your own mailbox;

            drop off such mail inside the Post Office building

      -     Limit pre-approved credit applications  (see below)

      -     Check your credit rating at least annually 

      -     Close old, unused credit accounts 


As a general rule, don’t give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call and have verified the identity of the recipient.  If a stranger calls and asks you for your personal information over the telephone, check his or her references first.  Obtain the name of the caller and their business or organization, but not their telephone number.  Do some research if necessary, and call the business or organization using a telephone number you trust.

Use similar caution with any written or Internet requests for personal information.  To limit the number of unsolicited pre-approved credit applications you receive in the mail, you can call 1-888-567-8688.

Identity theft is more often initiated from paper sources than from the Internet.  For example, many people are unaware of how often mail is stolen from the mailboxes in front of their houses.  If this mail contains checks, these checks can be altered and reused or important account information can be obtained.  You should never include your SSN, driver’s license number or birth date on your checks.

Likewise, you should not sign the back of your credit cards.  Instead, present your driver’s license or another photo ID to verify your identity.  Thieves often collect bits of personal information from different sources and then piece together a person’s identity that they can then use for illegal purposes.

Identity theft can be a long and costly (as much as $ 10,000) event to overcome.  If your identity is stolen, you may find the website for the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) helpful.  A growing trend is to purchase personal insurance against identity theft.

As the old saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  So, closely guard your personal information, especially your SSN.