Sunday, January 08, 2006

California's Top 10 Tips for Identity Theft Prevention

The following is courtesy of The State of California's
Department of Consumer Affairs and its:

Top 10 Tips for Identity Theft Prevention


An identity thief takes some piece of your personal information and uses it without your knowledge. The thief may run up debts or even commit crimes in your name. The following tips can help you lower your risk of becoming a victim.

1. Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. If your health plan (other than Medicare) or another card uses your Social Security number, ask the company for a different number. For more information, see "Your Social Security Number: Controlling the Key to Identity Theft" (Consumer Information Sheet 4) on our Social Security Numbers Web page.

2. Fight "phishing" - don’t take the bait. Scam artists "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies. They do this over the phone, in e-mails and in the regular mail. Don’t give out your personal information - unless you made the contact. Don’t respond to a request to verify your account number or password. Legitimate companies will not request this kind of information in this way.

3. Keep your identity from getting trashed. Shred or tear up papers with personal information before you throw them away. Shred credit card offers and "convenience checks" that you don’t use.

4. Control your personal financial information. California law requires your bank and other financial services companies to get your permission before sharing your personal financial information with outside companies. You also have the right to limit the sharing of your personal financial information with most of your companies’ affiliates. Write to your companies that you want to "opt-out" of sharing your personal financial information with their affiliates. For more information, see "Your Financial Privacy" (Consumer Information Sheet 3) on our Financial Privacy Web page.

5. Shield your computer from viruses and spies. Protect your personal information on your home computer. Use strong passwords: with at least eight characters, including a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, easy for you to remember, but difficult for others to guess. Use firewall and virus protection software that you update regularly. Steer clear of spyware: Download free software only from sites you know and trust. Don’t install software without knowing what it is. Set Internet Explorer browser security to at least "medium." Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.

6. Click with caution. When shopping online, check out a Web site before entering your credit card number or other personal information. Read the privacy policy and look for opportunities to opt out of information sharing. (If there is no privacy policy posted, beware! Shop elsewhere.) Only enter personal information on secure Web pages with "https" in the address bar and a padlock symbol at the bottom of the browser window. These are signs that your information will be encrypted or scrambled, protecting it from hackers.

7. Check your bills and bank statements. Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time. It may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.

8. Stop pre-approved credit offers. Stop most pre-approved credit card offers. They make a tempting target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688).

9. Ask questions. Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. Explain that you’re concerned about identity theft. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, consider going somewhere else.

10. Check your credit reports - for free. One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to monitor your credit history. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Request all three reports at once, or be your own no-cost credit-monitoring service. Just spread out your requests, ordering from a different bureau every four months. (More comprehensive monitoring services from the credit bureaus cost from $44 to over $100 per year.) Order your free annual credit reports by phone, toll-free, at 877-322-8228, or online at Or you can mail in an order form, available from the Federal Trade Commission.

This fact sheet is for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or as policy of the State of California. If you want advice on a particular case, you should consult an attorney or other expert. The fact sheet may be copied, if (1) the meaning of the copied text is not changed or misrepresented, (2) credit is given to the Office of Privacy Protection in the California Department of Consumer Affairs, and (3) all copies are distributed free of charge.

Office of Privacy Protection
1625 North Market Blvd., Suite N324
Sacramento, CA 95834

Toll Free: (866) 785-9663

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Behavior Management Expert and Maximizing Your Potential Mentor™ Etienne A. Gibbs is a life-observing author, engaging talk show host, humorous speaker, and successful trainer who teaches small business owners, managers, and employees how to speak, think, and perform in ways that will help them shine. In the end, they maximize their critical thinking, speaking, and management skills.

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