Identity theft and fraud are now common occurrences in our lives.
In fact, research estimates that 1 in 10 Americans will be a victim of identity theft every year,1 an astounding statistic. The good news is you can help protect yourself — and your loved ones — by taking some precautions.
Protect your Social Security number and other personal info
At times, you may be asked to provide your Social Security number to financial institutions, employers, landlords and government agencies as part of your normal business with them.
If you contact one of these organizations for customer service, they may ask you to verify part of your SSN — usually the last four digits. That is normal — however, legitimate organizations will not contact you and ask for your SSN.
If you receive a call from someone who claims to be from an organization you do business with and asks for your Social Security number, hang up and contact the organization through a published telephone number you know to be legitimate.
And if you’re ever wondering if you should share your SSN, ask the following questions: Why do you need it? How will you use it? How will you protect it from being stolen? What will happen if I don’t provide it?2
Don’t allow your personal information to get into the wrong hands. Shred letters, mailings and other correspondence that contains your credit card number, Social Security number or other personal information.
Shred — don’t just toss in the recycle bin — mail that has your name and address, date of birth, account numbers or anything else that is unique to you.3
Review your account statements carefully
That means going over the monthly credit card bill with a fine-tooth comb for any unaccounted purchases to spot unauthorized uses of your credit cards or bank accounts.
Better yet — log on to your bank or credit card issuer’s website on a regular basis and look at your transaction history and balance to make sure you recognize everything you see.
Don’t tell strangers your personal information
That’s a given, you say. But that's what you're doing every time you enter a contest or giveaway, or fill out a survey? This can put you on a crook’s radar as an easy mark, or make it easier to them to piece together personal details they could use later.
Also, be wary of offering too much information when mailing in a warranty card. For instance, why do coffee maker manufacturers need to know how much money you make?
And don’t make yourself a target by sharing sensitive personal information on social media sites, even inadvertently, like sharing your location automatically when you share photos or updates. Limit who can see what you post, since scammers often use social media to learn more about their marks.
Sadly, you even need to be careful about how much you share in a loved one’s obituary. Scammers often target family members who are grieving the loss of a loved one.3
Learn about recent common scams
By staying apprised of current scams being reported, you will have a better idea of what to look for and when to be suspicious. Visit the Better Business Bureau’s BBB Scam Tracker℠ to become familiar with scams in your area. The Federal Trade Commission issues scam alerts for common scams nationwide.
Tell telemarketers to take a hike
All you have to do is register your phone with the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry.
Listen to your instincts
If something about an interaction makes you feel uneasy — whether it’s online, over the phone or in person — you can always end it. Hang up the phone, walk away or close your web browser. Remember, you don’t owe anyone anything!
Add a trusted contact person to financial and investment accounts
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy recommends it.4
Although a trusted contact person (TCP) cannot act in your behalf or access your financial account, he or she can be the person your financial professional contacts if you’re unreachable — or it’s suspected that you’re being financially exploited and, and as a result, your account’s assets could be in jeopardy.
Your TCP can also help your financial professional identify your legal guardian, power of attorney, and other important players.4