If you care about the privacy of your financial information, your credit history, and your charge-card numbers, you can protect yourself from criminals. Identity theft is the fastest growing financial crime in the U.S.
It can be as simple as someone stealing your credit-card number and charging merchandise to your account. Or it can be much more far-reaching. A crook could use your name, birth date, and Social Security number to take over your bank accounts or set up new ones.
Financial institutions are liable for most unauthorized charges. The worst effect could be on your credit history. It could prevent you from getting a mortgage, a job, or good auto insurance rates. Ways to protect your identity include:
* Don’t put bank statements or credit-card offers into the trash where they can be picked up by someone else.
* Use a paper shredder for every piece of junk mail, usable checks from your credit-card company, and bank statements. Destroy records you no longer need: bank statements, credit-card receipts, health-insurance reimbursements. Shredders are cheap and easy to use.
* If mail theft is a problem, get a lockable mailbox. Don’t put letters or payments on your mailbox for
the postman to pick up. Anyone else can too.
* Buy a credit report at least once a year and check it carefully.
* Don’t carry rarely used credit cards, extra identification, or anything that shows your birth date. One authority recommends using your passport for ID. It doesn’t give your address.
To get a credit report, call Equifax at (800) 685-1111; Experian at (888) 397-3742; or TransUnion at (800) 916-8800. Reports cost $8.50, according to Business Week. To stop pre-approved credit card offers, call (888) 567-8688. To get off junk-mail and telemarketing lists, go to www.thedma.org/consumers/privacy.html.