Take Steps to Protect Your Identity

This spring and summer, people will travel to see their relatives and friends or go on a trip for a much needed rest. During these busy times, people need to be extra careful to protect themselves from identity theft. Identity theft is on the increase. It is when people steal a lot of data about you.

You begin to worry how someone may use your personal data when they steal your purse or wallet. Thiefs may use the numbers from your wallet cards to take on your identity. They could buy consumer goods, get benefits and services, open new charge accounts, take money from your bank accounts, apply for a job in your name, and much more.

You can take many steps to protect your identity. To limit access to your personal data:

Never carry these papers or cards with you, unless needed: social security card, Medicare card, health insurance card, credit cards, Link card (replaced food stamps), birth certificate, visa or passport. Make photo copies of these papers or cards. When not in use, put these items and copies in two separate safe places. If you need any of these items, carry them in your wallet or purse in a safe or guarded place on you.

Remove your name from mailing and calling lists:

Write these two places with the Direct Marketing Association (D.M.A.) once a year:

D. M. A.
Mail Preference Service
P. O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, N. Y. 11735-9008

D.M.A.
Mail Preference Service
P. O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, N. Y. 11735-9014

Call the Illinois Secretary of State office at 1-800-252-8980 to request the "opt out program" form to keep your name, address, and phone number from being sold to direct marketers.

Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to request they do not sell your name, address, and phone number:

Equifax 1-800-556-4711
Experian 1-800-353-0809
Trans Union 1-800-680-7293

Directly contact nonprofit agencies, magazines, and catalog companies by mail or by their "800" phone number. You can request that your name, address, and phone number be removed from their lists and request that they do not sell this data.

Do not buy products or services from those who sell by phone or door-to-door unless you deal with a well-known business.

Do not answer phone or door-to-door surveys.

Do not sign up for contests or free gifts.

If you have credit cards:

  • Reduce the number of cards in your name.
  • Lower the credit limits to what you can use.
  • Cut up unused and old cards. Call or write the bank or store about canceling them.
  • Do not give your card number, date it expires, pass words or codes over the phone. Only do this if you are the one who placed the call or you are doing a purchase with a well-known business.

Do not give your bank account number(s) over the phone or in person, unless you are doing business directly with the bank.

Check your social security earnings and credit report yearly to make sure the data about you is correct.

Check monthly for odd activity on: phone bills, credit and bank statements, etc.

Use travelers checks instead of carrying credit cards or too much cash.

Shred or tear up all unwanted mail that carry personal data such as account numbers and offers for credit cards.

Remove address labels before recycling mail.

Do not give out your home or work address and phone number.

Do not tell too many people the dates you will not be home.

Avoid going to stores, banks, or currency exchanges alone at night or that are in an unsafe places.

Prepared by Katherine Reuter, Consumer & Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

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