Source from AARP Bulletin
Written by: Sid Kirchheimer
Last year, as many as 16 million households fell victim to identity theft. Don’t join them this year. Reduce your risk with these simple, free steps.
- Get off mailing lists for pre-approved credit card offers-a gold mine for identity thieves-by visiting optoutprescreen.com or calling 888-567-8688 toll-free. Stop other junk mail at dmachoice.org (mailed requests cost $1).
- Enroll for free alerts from your bank account and credit card issuers flag unusual activity on accounts.
- Ask your credit card providers to issue you “smart cards” with safer EMW chip technology. If they’re unavailable, request replacement plastic with your photograph.
- To safeguard personal data on your electronic devices, use a smartphone password that isn’t 1234, 0000, 2580, 1111, or 5555-some of the most easily hacked. Set your smartphone on auto-lock. Make computer passwords at least 12 characters long. Use uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols such as # and %. Use different passwords on different accounts and change them every few months.
- Three times a year, access the free credit report you’re entitled to at annualcreditreport.com.
- If you don’t plan to apply for new credit, loans, insurance, or utility services, freeze your report so crooks can’t get new accounts in your name. Rules vary by state, but the $5 to $20 fees are often waived if you are 65 or older or provide proof of past identity theft. Type “security freeze” at the websites of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion for instructions. A fraud alert is always free but not as effective.
- Mail outgoing payments from a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or the post office, not from your more vulnerable home mailbox.
- Shred unneeded documents that contain personal information.
- Ask if your Internet provider offers free antivirus software. Set it for automatic security updates and a weekly full scan.
- Never clink on links in emails from strangers, or those purporting to be from a government agency or your bank warning of a “problem”. The likely result is that identity-stealing malware will be installed on your computer.
- Carry your Medicare card-its number is the same as your Social Security number-only for planned doctor or hospital visits. You’ll get emergency medical treatment without it, but if you’re worried, carry a photocopy with several digits snipped out. Carry your Social Security card only for visits to Social Security offices.
- Never provide personal information such as your Social Security number to anyone unless you initiate contact.