Hopefully, none of you have been victimized by identity thieves. However, just to ensure they pass you by, here are a few sensible tips:
• Be sure to install a firewall and virus protection on your computer. Run the latter daily to help prevent a worm or virus from corrupting your files. I also recommend a good spyware or adware program to get rid of the “cookies” that track purchases and visited sites.
• Never use passwords that a baddie can decipher, such as your mom’s maiden name, a variation of your Social Security number, your child’s name, pet’s name and so forth. Combine letters and numbers only you can figure out.
• Check your credit card and bank statements monthly. Notify the company about any discrepancy to dispute the charges. Shred all documents you’re not keeping for income tax purposes.
• If your wallet is stolen, place fraud alerts on all credit cards,. The same holds true if your Social Security card is enclosed. (And, NO, do not carry your SSN around with you unless it’s a copy with all but the last four digits deleted. The same holds true for Medicare cards.)
• Shield your ATM pin or credit card when making a transaction. One of the easiest ways a thief can grab your money is by looking like an innocent bystander but taking photos or videos of your information and later on fraudulently using these numbers.
• Never offer personal information to any person who calls you unless you’ve instigated the conversation.
• As I mentioned last week, think about enlisting in an identity theft protection plan. While we still need to be on guard against theft or misuse, these plans can take a huge load off our shoulders.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.