Identity Theft Prevention
The Hermosa Beach Police Officers Association endorses the following steps to protect your identity. While nothing can guarantee that you won't become a victim of identity theft, you can minimize your risk, and minimize the damage if a problem develops, by making it more difficult for identity thieves to access your personal information. The following are suggestions to help ensure your identity is never stolen. If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, please contact the Hermosa Beach Police Department at (310) 524-2750, or your local police department to file a crime report.
Protect your Social Security number
Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers. If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your Social Security number as your policy number.
Your employer and financial institutions will need your Social Security number for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your Social Security number to do a credit check if you are applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for utilities. Sometimes, however, they simply want your Social Security number for general record keeping. If someone asks for your Social Security number, ask:
1. Why do you need my Social Security number?
2. How will my Social Security number be used?
3. How do you protect my Social Security number from being stolen?
4. What will happen if I don't give you my Social Security number?
If you don't provide your Social Security number, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your Social Security number with the business. The decision to share is yours.
Treat your trash and mail carefully to thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, always shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail.
To opt out of receiving prescreened offers of credit in the mail, call: 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688). Note: You will be asked to provide your Social Security number which the consumer reporting companies need to match you with your file.
Deposit your outgoing mail containing personally identifying information in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, contact the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or online at www.usps.gov, to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
Be on guard when using the InternetThe Internet can give you access to information, entertainment, financial offers, and countless other services but at the same time, it can leave you vulnerable to online scammers, identity thieves and more.
Select intricate passwords
Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, a series of consecutive numbers, or a single word that would appear in a dictionary. Combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters make the strongest passwords. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still ask for your mother's maiden name. Find out if you can use a password instead.
Verify a source before sharing information
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you've initiated the contact and are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves are clever, and may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and even government agencies to get people to reveal their Social Security number, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information.
Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization's website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Many companies post scam alerts when their name is used improperly. Or call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.
Safeguard your purse and wallet
Protect your purse and wallet at all times. Don't carry your Social Security number or card; leave it in a secure place. Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you'll actually need when you go out.
Store information in secure locations
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house. Share your personal information only with those family members who have a legitimate need for it. Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work; do the same with copies of administrative forms that have your sensitive personal information.
Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that collect your personally identifying information. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask how your information can be kept confidential.
About identity theft insurance Although identity theft insurance won't deter identity thieves, it can, in certain circumstances, minimize losses if an identity theft occurs. As with any product or service, as you consider whether to buy, be sure you understand what you'd be getting. Things to consider include: (1) the amount of coverage the policy provides; (2) whether it covers any lost wages (and, if so, whether there's a cap on the wages you can claim, or a separate deductible); (3) the amount of the deductible; (4) what might be excluded (for example, if the thief is a family member or if the thief made electronic withdrawals and transfers); (5) whether the policy provides a personal counselor to help you resolve the problems of identity theft; and (6) whether your existing homeowner's policy already contains some coverage. Be aware that one of the major "costs" of identity theft is the time you will spend to clear your name. Also be aware that many companies and law enforcement officers will only deal with you (as opposed to an insurance company representative). So, even if your policy provides you with a personal counselor, that counselor can often only guide you, as opposed to doing the work to clear your name. And, as you evaluate insurance products and services, you may also consider checking out the insurer with your local Better Business Bureau, consumer protection agency and state Attorney General.