1. Safeguard Your Social Security Number
Your Social Security number (SSN) is the key to your personal and financial vault. It provides access to your bank and brokerage accounts, credit reports, medical records, and so much more. The SSN is often the entry point for identity theft. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Do not write your SSN on a piece of paper in your wallet or purse either. Guard it always and do not give it out unless absolutely necessary. Do not be afraid to strongly question why anyone needs to know your SSN. Also protect your other personal information, such as your passport, birth certificate, voter registration card, alien registration card, and other forms of identification.
2. Protect Your Other Personal Information
Locking down your SSN is the first step in protecting your personal information. The same safeguards are needed for your credit card numbers, bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, and others. Do not give your credit card number or other personal information to people who call you, no matter how legitimate or enticing the offer may sound. Always limit to whom you give your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, or other confidential personal information. Again, do not be afraid to question why someone needs this information.
Minimize the amount of information you carry with you. Do not carry more than two credit cards at any one time. Do not write your personal identification number (PIN) on your automated teller machine (ATM) card. Go through your wallet or purse and remove old deposit slips, blank checks, and other information that you may not need to carry. Do not keep account information or passwords in your cell phone or personal digital assistant. Cancel credit cards that you do not need.
Check your credit card after each use. Always check that you have received your own credit card back after making a purchase, although this is not a frequent problem. In some instances, corrupt clerks have switched credit cards. The clerk knows that the particular credit card is good since it was approved for the purchase; criminally minded clerks can use the card or sell it to others.
Always guard your other passwords and PINs. Do not provide your address or telephone number on credit card transaction slips. Some states actually prohibit retailers from asking you for this information. When purchasing from online retailers, do not allow them to maintain your credit card number or other personal information for future transactions. The less information that you allow them to store, the less information can be adversely impacted if a data breach occurs.
Keep unnecessary information off your checks. I have seen people print their SSNs and home telephone numbers on their checks. There is no need to do this; it only exposes more personal information. Limit the information to your name and address. Rather than having new or additional checks for your checking account mailed to your home address, consider having them delivered to your bank for pickup. This is especially recommended if you do not have a locking mailbox.
Some credit card issuers allow card holders to place their photograph on their cards. This can be a good if the card is lost and then used by a thief. Of course, we have to assume that whoever receives the card for purchases will actually look at the face of the card and compare the signature on the back of the card with the signature provided at time of use. In some cases, people have signed ‘‘Mickey Mouse’’ on their credit card receipts without the cashiers ever noticing.
Protect personal information that you leave in your car. Do not leave any items with personal information, such as insurance cards, vehicle registration, wallets, purses, or laptops in your vehicle, especially in plain view. Thieves will break into vehicles to obtain this information. In addition, remove or hide from view your garage door opener. The garage door opener and vehicle registration with your home address provides thieves with the tools they needed to locate and easily enter your house while you are away. Properly secure financial instruments and important documents in your residence or business, or bank safety deposit box. Better yet, install a home alarm system for further protection. Residential and commercial burglaries have been carried out to obtain SSNs, birth certificates, and account information.