3 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

The following post comes from the Military Saves Blog.  Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

With so many scams popping up monthly, it’s good to be reminded of ways that you can avoid being a victim of identity theft. Here are three tips that you can live by that help:

1. Shred documents.  Financial documents that contain your social security number or credit card numbers should be kept filed in a safe place, but not all need to be saved forever.

·         Cancelled checks: Unless they are needed to support tax deductions, cancelled checks don’t need to be saved for more than a year. You may want to keep checks for large purchases if you need them for warranties, but just be sure you aren't keeping more than is necessary.

·         Bank statements: You don’t need bank statements for more than one year, and that is only if they are needed so that you can document payment for important items or major purchases. Otherwise, shred all that over a year old.

·         Pay check stubs: Pay stubs many times have your social security number, which is all a criminal needs to get access to all your financial information. So it is important to keep them in a secure file. However they can be useful and necessary to show proof of income when applying for a home loan, or renting a home or car. So, you can keep them up for a year, but at the end of the year, toss all but the final one.

·         Credit card statements. Unless you want to dispute an item, there is no real reason you need to keep piles of credit card statements or receipts. If you want to track your spending, make a spreadsheet at the end of each month, then throw out your statement. But it is a good idea to shred or rip them up because identity theft criminals are known for going through the trash to collect information. It’s tedious, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Don’t Fall for fraudulent telephone claims:

·         The jury duty scam: Recently there have been scams where people have received a phone call from someone saying they have missed jury duty and they will go to jail if they don’t pay a fine. This is a scam that preys on senior citizens and others who are not aware of how the jury selection process works. Don’t fall for it! If you have been chosen for jury duty, you will be contacted by mail and given a number to call.

·         The bank representative scam. If someone calls your home or cell phone asking for your social security number, it’s a scam.  Banks will never ask for your complete social security number unless you are signing up for a new bank account or trying to get a loan. Banks don’t just randomly call and ask for your social security number. They may ask for the last four digits to verify your account, but this is only when you call them to ask questions regarding your account.

3.   Monitor your credit and financial activity.

·         Check your bank account activity on a regular basis (weekly if not daily). It’s important to constantly be aware of what you are being charged for. Check cleared items as well as, pending items that are in your checking account regularly. That way, if there is something pending that looks suspicious, you can call your bank to report it before the transaction completes. Otherwise you may have to wait for money to be refunded anywhere from one month to three months later.

·         Take advantage of free annual credit report. You can get a free credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. It is especially important to know what is on your credit report if you are planning to buy or rent a home or car, or make any other large purchase. It is always best to know your credit score and the status of your any collection accounts you may have, so that you can take care of them beforehand. 

Identity thieves always looking for ways to get to your financial information. Shredding unneeded documents, being aware of your current finances, and staying abreast of current scams is the best way to protect yourself. For more information, visit the Consumer Federation of America’s identity theft page to stay up to date on the latest scams and congressional protections.