There are a number of ways that you can protect your private information and reduce the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
What About Those Passwords?
Whether on the Internet or using an online banking program, you are often required to use a password. The worst ones to use are the ones that you think of first—your own or your spouse’s name, maiden name, pets’ and children’s names, etc. The BEST passwords mix numbers with upper and lowercase letters. A password not found in the dictionary is even better. There are programs that will try every word in the dictionary in an effort to crack your security. Avoid breaks in your security by doing the following:
- Change your password regularly.
- Memorize your password. If you have several, develop a system for remembering them. If you do write down the password, keep it at home or hidden at work. Don’t write your password on a Post-It note and stick it on your monitor or hard drive.
- Set up a special account or set aside a different computer at work for temporary help and other unauthorized users.
- If you have the option of letting your computer or a website remember a password for you, Don't use it! Anyone who uses your machine will have automatic access to information that is password protected.
When you shop in cyberspace, you can prevent problems before they occur by:
- Doing business with companies you know and trust. If you haven’t heard of the company, research it or ask for a paper catalog before you decide to order electronically. Check with your state consumer protection agency on whether the company is licensed or registered. Fraudulent companies can appear and disappear very quickly in cyberspace.
- Checking to see if your computer connection is secure. In Internet Explorer, for example, you should see a small yellow lock in the lower right corner of the screen. In Netscape, a secure connection is shown by a small lock highlighted in yellow in the lower left corner of the screen.
- Using a secure Internet browser that will encrypt or scramble purchase information. If there is no encryption software, consider calling the company’s 800 number, faxing your order, or paying with a check.
- Never giving a bank account or credit card number or other personal information such as your Social Security number and date of birth to anyone you don’t know or haven’t checked out. And DON’T provide information that is unnecessary to make a purchase. Even with partial information, con artists can make unauthorized charges or take money from your account. If you have a choice between using your credit card and mailing cash, check or money order, use a credit card. You can always dispute fraudulent credit card charges, but you can’t get cash back.
Using ATMs and Long Distance Phone Cards
It is extremely important for you to protect your Personal Identification Number (PIN). A PIN is a confidential code that is issued to the cardholder to permit access to that account. Your PIN should be memorized, secured and not given out to anyone—even family members or bank employees. The fewer people who have access to your PIN, the better.
- Never write your PIN on ATM or long-distance calling cards.
- Don't write your PIN on a piece of paper and place it in your wallet. If your wallet and card are lost or stolen, someone will have everything they need to remove funds from your account, make unauthorized debit purchases, or run up your long-distance phone bill.
- Be sure to take your ATM receipt to record transactions and match them against monthly statements. Dishonest people can use your receipt to get your account number.
- Never leave the ATM receipt at the site.
Protecting Your Credit Cards
- Avoid providing card and account information to anyone over the telephone.
- Only give your credit card account number to make a purchase or reservation you have initiated. And never give this information over a cellular phone.
- Never give your credit card to someone else to use on your behalf.
- Watch your credit card after giving it to store clerks to protect against extra imprints being made.
- Destroy any carbons. Do not discard into the trashcan at the purchase counter. Keep charge slips in a safe place.
- Save all receipts, and compare them to your monthly statement. Report any discrepancies immediately.
- Keep a master list in a secure place at home with all account numbers and phone numbers for reporting stolen or lost cards.