Gone forever are the days when financial transactions were conducted solely at the local bank, people paid cash for almost everything, and everyone knew their banker personally and did business with him through a simple handshake. While processes then were much simpler, in many ways, they weren’t very convenient.
Getting cash out of the bank wasn’t as simple as slipping a card into an ATM. Transactions weren’t automated and could take days to complete. Today, conducting financial transactions is much more convenient, allowing people to make instantaneous electronic transfers, put cash in their hand any time, day or night, and do business with dozens of lenders located thousands of miles away from their local banker. But with all that convenience has come a complexity that breeds a loss of privacy and encourages thieves to steal more than just your money. Identity theft has become a major problem in the U.S. today and its up to you to protect yourself from it.
Here’s what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you:
- Never give out your personal information over the phone. If someone calls claiming to represent a credit union, bank, or credit card issuer asking for verification of your full name, address, personal identification numbers, and so forth, hang up immediately. It’s probably a scam. A bank or credit card issuer already has this information and will not contact you by phone to get it. Phone your bank, credit union or credit card company to verify whether they called you or not. That way they can be alerted to the problem and take appropriate action.
- Shred rather than throwing away documents that have personal information on them. Anything that has your Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or any other identifying information printed on it should be shredded or burned. This includes any credit card applications you receive in the mail. It’s easy for someone to change the address and other information on the application and get a card in your name. Would-be identity thieves scrounge around in garbage cans and dumpsters looking for this type of information.
- Mail bills from a post office rather than placing them in your home mail box for pick up. Check your credit report annually. You can do this once a year free of charge and without negatively affecting your FICO score. Look for any suspicious activity on the report.
- Memorize PIN numbers. Do not write personal identification numbers anywhere.
- Opt out of credit card mailings. If you don’t want to receive any more credit card offers, call the credit bureaus to be removed from the mailing lists that banks and other creditors purchase in order to send you all that junk mail. To opt out, call (888) 567-8688. This number will let the three main credit bureaus know you don’t want to receive any junk mail advertising.