Monday, January 27, 2014

101 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft and Consumer Fraud

Stories of identity theft are rampant, there have been a number of recent retail data hacks, and consumer fraud alerts hit the news on almost a daily basis.  Here are 101 ways to prevent identity theft:

  1. Don't have your name on your mail box; just an address is fine.
  2. Send your mail from a locked mail box.
  3. Receive your mail at a locked postal box (your own or at the post office)
  4. Get on the 'do not mail' list.
  5. Be sure to shred any mail you receive that has personal information on it.
  6. Review your free annual credit report and correct any problems; do this yearly.
  7. Leave a generic message on your phone (don't add the fact that you are out of town until X date).
  8. Leave a generic message on your email auto responder (ditto the above).
  9. Get on the do not call list.
  10. Shred any old documents you no longer need with a cross cut shredder (old financial records, etc).
  11. Have online access to your financial institutions and check your accounts regularly for discrepancies.
  12. Cancel all but a couple of credit card (more cards mean more you need to monitor).
  13. Don't participate in surveys, raffles, "win a free car" drawings, etc. which require you to provide all of your information (name, address, birthdate, etc).
  14. Put a 'no soliciting' sign on your door and don't open your door to people you didn't invite to your home.
  15. Don't leave items with your personal information (bills, documents) laying around the house, on your desk at work, or sitting in your car where others can see them, take a photo of them, or simply take them.
  16. Don't carry more in your wallet than you need (no social security card, no birth certificate, no list of passwords, etc).
  17. Ask that your information be marked confidential on county and state tax databases.
  18. Consider paying your bills online instead of via the mail.
  19. If someone calls and asks for any personal info, get the name of the company and call them back (don't call the number they give you, look up the company's number yourself).
  20. Opt out of unsolicited credit offers.
  21. Take care of your personal security when out and about (keep your wallet in a front pocket, make sure people aren't watching you enter your PIN when using the ATM, never leave your purse unattended, etc).
  22. Be sure your children are safe online.  Children can be targeted by child predators as well as identity thieves who would be only too happy to ask for their name, birth date, and social security number.
  23. Pay with cash instead of credit card.
  24. If you carry items with an RFID chip (credit cards, passport, driver's license, etc) used a wallet that block RFID scanning.
  25. If you notice that something looks "off" with the ATM or credit card reader you are using, don't use it (putting fake scanners on ATMs is not uncommon).
  26. If you sell your used computers and cell phones, make sure all of the information on them is completely and permanently erased.
  27. If you have particularly sensitive information on an old computer, consider destroying the hard drive.
  28. Change your online passwords and PINs regularly (and make them difficult to guess).
  29. Do not download files to your computer or apps to your phone that you didn't request.
  30. Make sure you regularly update your computer's security (firewall, anti virus, anti spyware) software.
  31. Make sure you regularly update your cell phone as well (firmware and other updates).
  32. Keep a list of your passwords and PIN numbers (preferably handwritten and in a secure location like your safe; don't put this list on your phone or in an unprotected file on your computer).
  33. Keep a list of all of your financial documents/information in a secure location (in the event of theft you will have the information at your fingertips to cancel credit cards, lock down financial accounts, etc).  Keeping photocopies of these items is a good idea as well.
  34. Regularly back up all of your cell phone's content.
  35. Regularly back up all of your computer files and online files.
  36. Be wary of uploading sensitive documents to cloud storage.
  37. Know your cell phone's IMEI number (cell providers can use this to disable a stolen phone).
  38. Encrypt your email, your files, and be sure if you shop online that you are using a secure website to process the financial transaction.
  39. Use a dumb phone instead of a smart phone.
  40. If you must have a smart phone, be sure to log out of financial accounts each time you use them.
  41. Always require a password to access your cell phone.
  42. Use tracking software which will lead you to your lost or stolen devices.
  43. Be certain of the software and apps you download (some could allow access to your private information).
  44. Never put too much personal information (your vacation plans, your address, etc) on social networks.
  45. Be wary of putting too much information about yourself on online service sites (like when you list your resume on
  46. If you order checks, pick them up at the bank instead of having them mailed to you.
  47. If you don't use credit and want extra protection, request a "credit freeze" through the big three credit reporting agencies.
  48. If you notice something wrong or odd (credit card bills in your name that you didn't request, incorrect information on credit reports, ATM charges you didn't make, etc) report it to the financial institution immediately.
  49. If you have your phone stolen or know you are a victim of identity theft, file a police report immediately.
  50. Don't give or loan your information (driver's license, insurance card, PIN numbers, etc) to anyone, even a trusted friend.
  51. If you want your kids or someone else to use your credit card for whatever purpose (on iTunes, to put gas in your car, etc) give them pre-paid gift cards or pre-paid credit cards instead of giving them your debit/credit card and access to your bank accounts.
  52. Have accounts at multiple banks.  Use only one of these for online financial purposes (to make purchases on Amazon, to attach to your PayPal account, to pay for your monthly Netflix subscription, etc).  Also, keep a minimum amount of money in this account and do not allow overdrafts on this account.
  53. Be sure that agencies that have your personal information (bank, mortgage company, doctor/insurance company, etc) keep this information secure.  And throw a fit if you find they don't.
  54. Keep receipts of your debit/credit transactions then compare them to your online bank statement (make sure amounts weren't changed, that credits were applied, and that there are no mystery charges).  When you no longer need these receipts, shred them.
  55. Be careful of putting "auto charge" authority on any of your credit cards (like with iTunes, etc).
  56. Know what bills you are expecting (monthly bills, annual bills, etc) and if any turn up missing, find out why.
  57. Be sure to check each and every financial transaction (amount, name of store, location of store) on your bank statements (sometimes scammers start with small purchases at McDonalds just to see if the card is valid).  Report any transactions you didn't make.
  58. Keep confirmation receipts for any online purchases (and don't delete these receipts until you receive and are satisfied with your purchase).  Receipts for large purchases should be kept until you no longer have the item.
  59. Make sure your home looks "lived in" when you are on vacation.  You may want to put expensive or sensitive items in a friend's secure safe while you are gone.
  60. Make sure your internet modem/router wi-fi signal is password protected (WPA/WEP encryption is best).
  61. Be careful of using unsecured wi fi networks (and be really really careful if you are using an unsecured network for financial transactions).
  62. Keep the camera feature of your laptop/phone covered unless you are using it (these can be remotely turned on).
  63. Also turn off features you aren't using on your phone (bluetooth, GPS, wi fi, etc).
  64. Be knowledgeable of popular scams (there are thousands of them--everything from the kidnapped grandchild to the Nigerian prince who wants you to hold his money).
  65.  Be wary of buying items from from CraigsList or other non-secure online sources (items such as vacation rentals, and big ticket items should never be bought site unseen.  And you should never wire money instead of using a credit card as there is no consumer protection once the money has been sent).
  66. Donate only to verified charities (after disasters you may get all kinds of unsolicited requests for donations).  Ditto for religious organizations and smaller community assistance funds.
  67. DO NOT co sign for others (rental agreements, student loans, etc).  When they bail your credit will be on the line until the loan is paid back.
  68. Be wary of getting into contracts that are notoriously difficult to get out of (gym memberships, time shares, etc).
  69. Be extra careful when emailing or faxing sensitive documents (ie: financial documents to your mortgage company, etc).  If the item is sent to the wrong number/address you may have problems.
  70. Decide how much security your various online activities need:  when banking online be sure to log out completely when done, your generic email program can probably be left open, when finished online shopping, log out completely.  Ditto for these activities on your cell phone.
  71. Beware of tax scams.  Places that promise to find you "more money" than regular tax preparers or who will advance you money at a high fee in anticipation of your tax refund could be fraudulent.
  72. Stay away from payday lenders and title loan places!
  73. Check your important documents regularly to ensure that #1 they are still where you left them and #2 have not expired or need to be renewed.
  74. When making big purchases, do your research (ie: state Lemon Law, store return policies, a businesses BBB rating, etc).
  75. Only deal with reputable e-commerce sites (like Amazon.  Small, unknown sites may not provide any sort of consumer protection and you may not even get the item you order).
  76. Immediately return any packages you didn't order (scammers sometimes try to beat the homeowner to a package they had delivered to your address).
  77. When you are at your wit's end with a consumer issue, contact your state's consumer advocate or even you local media (TV, newspaper) consumer help line.
  78. Beware of investment fraud and scams.
  79. Also beware of education fraud and scams.
  80. If someone calls or email you and asks for your account number, password, or other personal information do not respond, these are called phishing scams and are a way that thieves can steal your identity.
  81. Be aware of what the CARD act covers.
  82. Do not participate in fraudulent or illegal online activities (child porn, insurance fraud, welfare fraud, foreign lotteries, etc).
  83. Never send money to someone you don't know or receive money from someone you don't know (a common scam is that you receive a check and the sender asks you to deposit it into your account, keep some of the money, then wire them the rest).
  84. Keep open communication with elderly or infirm friends or relatives and note/report anything that seems off (ie: your 90 year old grandfather sending money to his "girlfriend" in Asia).  
  85. Be aware of the ways that the elderly can be targeted for identity theft and fraud.
  86. Don't be intimidated or rushed to make a financial decision or to provide more information than your are comfortable with.
  87. Don't allow strangers in your home unless you know they are coming (ie: the cable guy who need to make repairs).  You will also want to make sure they don't see your wallet, credit cards, cash, financial documents, etc laying around.
  88. When leaving your car with the valet, only give them the key to your car (not the entire ring of keys).  Also, hide insurance and registration information which would give them your address.
  89. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is (like being paid $5000 for a paper marriage so someone can get a green card or being given a "once in a lifetime opportunity to join a Multi Level Marketing program).
  90. Do not carry debt (personal loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc); this makes your financial life much easier to keep track of.
  91. Always do your own homework (ie: don't just buy a bottle of pills because Dr Oz's face is on it, don't give a friend money to invest for you, don't fall for the spiel of a convincing salesman, etc).
  92. Hang up on robocalls.  If someone wants to talk to you, they can certainly wait on the line until you answer.
  93. While the housing market is getting better, mortgage scams are still around.
  94. If you need help, seek qualified assistance.  Find a real CPA, a real lawyer, or a real doctor to help you.  And you should seek them out, they shouldn't seek you out (although personal injury attorneys are pretty good at tracking you down if you've been in the press).
  95. Gambling is pretty much a scam anyway but if you must gamble, choose legal options.  Illegal gambling scams abound but they are just that--scams AND illegal.
  96. There are enough car fraud opportunities to write an entire blog post about--everything from fraudulent dealer practices to more fraudulent practices to other types of fraud.
  97. Believe it or not, you aren't even safe from identity thieves when you are dead.
  98. Even pets can be used for identity theft (if your dog gets a credit card in the mail you have a problem) as well as scams (someone scoops up your dog--or says they did--then demands a reward).
  99. Pyramid schemes have been around, probably since the pyramids were built. 
  100. And if despite following all of these tips, you still become a victim of identity theft, here's what you do.
  101. This is what you do to report other types of fraud.

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