Identity Theft: Protecting Yourself

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that about 10 million people are victims of identity theft every year.

How it Happens

Identity thieves get information in a variety of ways, including:

  • Stealing personal items such as a wallet, purse, laptop, personal digital assistant and mail
  • Picking through garbage for discarded credit card statements, bank statements, and pre-approved credit card offers
  • Hacking into computers
  • Posing as someone else to obtain personal information from a bank, credit card company, etc.
  • Conducting telephone and email scams

Stay One Step Ahead

To minimize your risk, the FTC recommends the following precautions:

  • Check your home mailbox daily, and drop your outgoing mail into a secure U.S. postal mailbox only.
  • Carry only what you need in your wallet or purse, and leave your Social Security card at home in a safe place. Keep an itemized list on paper of all the items in your wallet, make front and back copies of your credit cards, calling cards, driver’s license, insurance card, passport, etc.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles, as identity thieves may change your billing address on your credit cards, so late bills may indicate a problem.
  • Give out your personal information on a need-to-know basis and to legitimate businesses only. Do not print your Social Security number, home phone or driver’s license number on your checks. If requested, use your work number. If you are required to use your Social Security number as an account number, request to use an alternate identifier.
  • Update your virus protection software. It is also a good idea to use a firewall program.
  • When shopping online, make purchases from a secure browser, indicated by https://, and do not use automatic log-in features.
  • Before disposing of an old computer, delete your personal information using a wipe utility program, which cleans all the information off your hard drive.

Report Identity Theft

If your wallet or some of its contents are stolen:

  • Determine what’s been stolen, and call all creditors immediately to cancel your accounts.
  • File a police report. This will help provide proof of immediate action to your credit card providers.
  • Call the three national credit reporting bureaus, as well as the Social Security Administration, so that a fraud alert can be placed on your name and Social Security number.

Dangers of Hands-free Devices

It’s commonly believed that hands-free accessories are a safe way to use cellphones while driving. However, more than 30 studies show that they are actually no safer than handheld devices.

Though hands-free devices are marketed as a way to keep a driver’s hands on the wheel, they present other dangers. For example, many of these devices require a driver to take his or her eyes off of the road—such as to navigate through an infotainment system or to ensure the accuracy of a voice-to-text system. In fact, new studies from the National Safety Council (NSC) show that drivers are more distracted by voice-to-text systems than typing a text message by hand.

Another study, released by the American Automobile Association (AAA), found that even when a driver’s eyes are on the road, the distractions from a hands-free device cause significant impairments. These include, but are not limited to, decreased awareness of surrounding traffic, a sense of tunnel vision and increased reaction time.

It’s always safest to drive with your mind clear of distractions, eyes focused on what’s in front of you and both hands on the wheel.