Guarding Your Privacy
- Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
How to Lessen Your Risk of Being a Victim
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely protect yourself from having your identity stolen, but limiting access to your information can help reduce the risk. Follow these suggested steps to better protect your private data.
Remove Your Name from Marketing Lists
You may remove your name, or “opt-out,” from marketing or promotional lists maintained by credit bureaus and other organizations with which you have a relationship.
When reviewing your mail you probably noticed a number of pre-approved credit offers with other mail. The credit bureaus offer a toll-free number to “opt-out” of having pre-approved credit offers sent to you for five years or permanently. When credit offers are thrown in the trash, they are a potential target for thieves. To “opt-out” of receiving preapproved credit offers you may call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or log on to www.optoutprescreen.com for more information.
In addition, notify the three major credit bureaus that you do not want your personal information shared for promotional purposes. To limit the amount of information credit bureaus share about you, write your own letter or use the sample letter provided here to notify the credit bureaus of your request. Send your letter to the following addresses:
Credit Information Services, Inc
PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
Attn: Consumer Services Dept.
901 West Bond Street
Lincoln, NE 68521-3694
Opt Out Request
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094
The Direct Marketing Association (“DMA”) is a trade association of catalogers, financial services firms, publishers, book and music clubs, online service companies, and others involved in direct and database marketing. To “opt out” of DMA mailing lists (other companies may continue to contact you) for up to three years, visit DMA’s website, www.dmachoice.org, or send your own request or use the sample letter on page 28 with your complete name (including variations), mailing address, and telephone number, along with a check or money order made out to “DMA” in the amount of $1 for each name to:
Data & Marketing Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
Federal law forbids a telemarketer to call you once you have asked to be put on that telemarketer’s “do-not-call” list. A telemarketer who ignores your request can be held responsible for up to $500 in damages per call and $1,500 per willful violation. Thus, if you do not want to be called in the future, you should tell the telemarketer that you want to be placed on that telemarketer’s “do-not-call” list and that you know you are entitled under federal law to $500 per call after your request.
You should also take an inventory of banks, charities, and other organizations with which you do business. Write to these organizations telling them not to sell or give out your name. You may use the sample letter provided on page 28. If you think your name has been sold, send a letter to the company or organization and complain. Ask for the list of businesses or charities that bought your name and information. Then, write to these organizations and ask them to put you on their “do-not-mail” and “do-not-sell” lists.
The National “Do-Not-Call” Registry
The Federal Trade Commission registers consumers on a national “do not call” list. You may register up to three phone numbers at one time (including your cell phone number) by visiting www.donotcall.gov. You may register one phone number at a time (including your cell phone number) by calling 1-888-382-1222, but you must call from the phone number you want to register. Your phone number will remain on the registry permanently unless you later delete it from the registry. Telemarketers covered by the National Do Not Call registry have up to thirty-one days from the date you register to stop calling you.
Some calls are exempt from the Do Not Call law. Examples of exempt calls include:
- Calls from—or on behalf of—political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors;
- Calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship; and
- Calls from companies you’ve given permission to call.
Don’t Be an Easy Target
When you pay bills, don’t leave the envelopes containing your checks at your home mailbox for the postal carrier to collect. If stolen, your checks can provide valuable information to a thief or be altered and cashed. Your credit card payments, if acquired by a thief, contain all the information needed to steal your identity. Also, consider installing a locked mailbox at your residence to reduce the possibility of mail theft. You should also take the following steps:
- When you order new checks from your financial institution, remove extraneous information such as your middle name, phone number, Social Security number or driver’s license number. The fewer pieces of identifying information you have on your checks the better.
- When creating passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs), do not use any combination of numbers that could be easily detected by thieves. Don’t use the last four digits of your Social Security number, your birth date, middle name, mother’s maiden name, address, or consecutive numbers.
- Don’t toss credit card convenience checks or pre-approved credit offers in your trash or recycling bin before first tearing them into small pieces or shredding them. These solicitations can be used by “dumpster divers” to cash the checks or order credit cards in your name. Do the same with other sensitive information like credit receipts, bank statements, and important bills you do not retain for your records.
- Store your canceled checks in a secure place. In the wrong hands, checks could reveal a lot of information about you, including your account number, telephone number, and driver’s license number. Never permit your credit card number to be written on your checks by a merchant. (It is illegal in Minnesota for any merchant to write your credit card number on your check when you are completing a purchase.)
- Carefully review your credit card statements and phone bills for unauthorized charges or fraudulent use. Scrutinize your local, long distance, and cell phone bills each month and report any unauthorized use to your service provider. You may contact your local telephone company to verify your long distance carrier and request a “PIC Freeze” on your account so it cannot be changed without your specific authorization. If you would like more information on a PIC Freeze, telephone billing, and how to avoid phone fraud, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office offers a free publication entitled The Phone Handbook.
Be Smart with Credit Cards
Check for fraudulent use of your credit accounts. The most important step to safeguarding your identity is to monitor your credit card statements and credit report.
- Once a year, order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three largest credit bureaus. Reduce the number of credit cards you actively use. Carry only one or two credit cards in your wallet or purse and cancel all others. Unused cards should be canceled because, even though you don’t use them, the numbers are recorded on your credit report and can be used by identity thieves.
- Don’t give out your credit card number or other personal information over the phone unless you know with whom you’re doing business. Even then, before revealing any personal information, find out how it will be used or shared with others.
- Always take credit card and ATM receipts with you when you make a purchase or withdrawal. Monitor your mail when you are expecting a new credit card that you have applied for or a reissued credit card that has expired. Contact the issuer right away if the card does not arrive on the date expected.
Shop Smartly Online
The Internet puts vast information at your fingertips. With a click of a mouse, it lets you buy an airline ticket, buy a book, book a hotel, send flowers to a friend, or purchase stock—often at any time of the day or night. Before you shop, consider the following safety tips.
Use a secure browser.
A browser is software you use to navigate the Internet. Your browser should comply with industry security standards. These standards encrypt or scramble the purchase information you send over the Internet, ensuring the security of your transaction. Most computers come with a browser installed, though you may also download some browsers for free. Look for “https://” (the “s” is for secure) before the web address, because this indicates that the website and Internet connection are secure.
Shop with companies you know.
Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. If you’re not familiar with a merchant, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Determine the company’s refund and return policies before you place an order.
Make sure you’re at the correct website.
Online merchants may have links to other webpages selling the same product. For instance, you might go to an online bookstore to shop for a particular book and, in the course of your shopping, click on a link to “learn more about the author.” The link might take you to the author’s homepage where you can also order the book. You might inadvertently buy the book from the author rather than from the original bookstore, and then be bound by privacy and return policies you haven’t read. Before you order a product online, be sure to check the URL (the address at the top of the page) to ensure that you are on the correct website.
Disclose only necessary personal information.
Don’t disclose personal information, such as your name, address, telephone number, email address, or Social Security number, until you know who is collecting the information, why they are collecting it, and how they will use it. If disclosure of personal information is necessary (e.g. to deliver a product you buy), then disclose only the amount of personal information that is required to complete the transaction. If you have children, teach them to check with you before giving out personal or family information online.
Pay by credit or charge card.
Keep a record.
Be sure to print a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number for your records. Since the Federal Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule covers orders made via the Internet, your merchandise must be delivered to you within 30 days. If there are delays, the company must notify you.
Opt-out of information sharing.
Keep your passwords private.
Be creative when you establish a password, and never give it to anyone. Avoid using a telephone number, birth date, or a portion of your Social Security number. Instead use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
Freezing Your Credit Report
Minnesota law helps consumers protect themselves from new account fraud by allowing any consumer to freeze his or her credit report by simply contacting a consumer reporting agency and requesting a credit report freeze. A credit report freeze will deny identity thieves access to the consumer’s credit history and prevent them from obtaining new credit cards or loans under the consumer’s name.
Any Minnesotan can impose such a freeze on his or her personal credit report for any reason. Victims of identity theft can have their credit reports frozen without charge. Non-victims can proactively freeze their credit report for a $5 fee. When a credit reporting agency receives a freeze request, it must place the freeze within three days of the request, and provide a unique PIN to the consumer within 10 days of the request.
The consumer may then use the PIN to temporarily lift or “thaw” his or her report for a specific period of time or for a specific creditor. For example, suppose that you are looking to purchase a new car. If you know that you want to buy the car from Dealership XYZ, you may contact the credit reporting agencies and allow that specific dealership to access your credit report. Or you may request that your credit report be accessible to any creditor for a specific period of time, such as 30 days, to give you time to shop at several dealerships. After the specified time, your credit report will automatically refreeze.
Be sure to keep the PIN in a safe place. If you forget your PIN, you can get a second one for free, but will have to pay $5 for a third one. Like placing the freeze, victims of identity theft can thaw their credit reports without charge, while non-victims may be charged a $5 fee.
Because different credit issuers may use different credit reporting agencies, you will need to freeze your credit report with each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Each of the three credit reporting agencies has its own process for taking credit freeze requests. If you are a victim of identity theft, you will need to provide the credit reporting agencies with a copy of either the police report or case number documenting the theft to avoid the $5 fee.
For instructions on how to request a credit freeze, consumers may contact the credit reporting agencies as follows:
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
TransUnion Security Freeze
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Credit report freezes are an effective defense in the fight against identity theft. You can be proactive in protecting yourself from its expensive, time-consuming consequences by freezing your credit report.
When your credit file is frozen, no one will be approved for new credit in your name. In order for you to obtain new credit, you must use your PIN and contact the credit reporting agencies to thaw your file. While credit reporting agencies are to thaw credit reports in an expedited manner, thawing your file may take up to three business days. Be sure to plan ahead and temporarily thaw your credit file before applying for credit.