Identity thieves are smart and will find ways to steal your personal information if you’re not careful. A thief might get your information from bill statements that were thrown in the garbage or by hacking into your bank’s computers. Always be on the lookout for unexplained account activity in your name.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself from identity theft:
Always use strong passwords for your online accounts. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols that will be easy for you to remember but hard for thieves to guess.
Don’t carry passwords or PIN codes with you. Many identity crimes involve a lost or stolen wallet or purse. Don’t make it easy for thieves to use your cards.
Never carry your Social Security card with you. Leave it at home.
Shred or tear up documents containing your personal information before you throw them away. Don’t make it easy for thieves to go through your garbage and steal your information.
Never give out your personal information (Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number) over the phone, in the mail, or over the internet unless you’re giving it to a company you know and trust.
Don’t let mail sit in your mailbox! And send your mail from an official U.S. mailbox – it’s safer than leaving it in your home mailbox.
Opt out of offers for new credit cards. Call 1-888-567-8688 or visit www.optoutprescreen.com to avoid offers for new cards, mortgages, and other loans.
You are entitled to get a free annual credit report (www.annualcreditreport.com) from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year. You can stagger your requests from the different companies throughout the year instead of getting them all at once. This way you can regularly check your credit for unfamiliar charges without paying for a credit report.
Important: Report lost or stolen credit and debit cards right away.
Know Your Rights
Under most state laws, you’re not responsible for any debt from new accounts opened in your name without your permission.
Under federal law, the amount you have to pay for unauthorized use of your credit card is limited to $50. If you report the loss to the credit card company before the thief uses your card, you aren’t responsible for any charges.
If your debit or credit card is lost or stolen, you can protect yourself by reporting the loss immediately to your bank, credit union, or credit card company.
If you report your card lost before any charges are made, you won’t be responsible for any charges.
If you report your card lost within 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft, you can only be responsible for up to $50 in charges.
If you report your card lost more than 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft, but less than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you, the most you can be responsible for is $500.
If you report your card lost more than 60 calendar days after statement is sent to you, the amount you owe could be unlimited.