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:
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 Internet. The 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.
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.
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.