Preventing Identity Theft

Identity theft can be a problem anywhere, but when you’re traveling it can be especially easy to fall victim. The likelihood that you lose your wallet or have an account hacked because you used an unsecured internet connection is higher when you’re traveling. So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission website:

  • Keep your passwords private. Think of creative, strong passwords that include numbers and characters.
  • Don’t overshare on social networking sites. If you post too much about yourself, an identity thief can use that information to answer “challenge” questions on your accounts and gain access to your money and personal information.
  • Encrypt your data. Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
  • Know the Wi-Fi you are using. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
  • Avoid phishing emails. Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type.
  • Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you — unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office.
  • Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements often. If someone has gained access to your financial accounts, this is the quickest way to discover the breach if your financial institution hasn’t found it already.

If your identity has been stolen, here are a few ways to minimize the damage and prevent future breaches:

  • If your financial account has been hacked, contact the bank or credit card company to close down the account or card and request a new one.
  • Change passwords, PINs, and if possible, usernames on compromised accounts.
  • Put a Fraud Alert on your Credit Report Cards. A fraud alert puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies lenders and creditors that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. To place a 90-day fraud alert on all three of your credit reports, you only need to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion). When you place the initial alert, they will automatically notify the other two agencies for you.
  • File a police report. To complete the Identity Theft Report, you’ll need to contact your local law enforcement office and report the theft. Be sure to get a copy of the report and/or the report number.
  • Get your free yearly credit reports from Check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize.
  • Don’t believe anyone who calls and says you’ll be arrested unless you pay for taxes or debt — even if they have part or all of your Social Security number, or they say they’re from the IRS. The IRS will always contact you in writing, never via phone call.
  • Try to file your taxes early – before a scammer can. Tax Identity Theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

For more information on identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission website. Keep yourself safe this summer, and happy travels!

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