This was originally published on Monday, July 15, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
Most people think that because they do not do much online, shred outdated mail, and are careful who they give information to, that they are not a target for identity theft. But the truth is that we are all possible victims of this crime.
Protecting yourself from identity theft does take some extra work and learning some new habits, but it is worth it. To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, there are some basic precautions you can take.
• Monitor your credit score. Your credit score contains information that can show accounts that has been opened in your name or monthly bills that you pay. You can request a free annual credit report atwww.annualcreditreport.com
• Be stingy. Be careful about who you give your information to. Ask questions when filling out applications. What is the information for? How do you secure it? How do they dispose of it?
• Secure your information. Lost or stolen documents can be hard to replace. Keep passports, social security cards, and birth and marriage certificates locked up in a safe.
• Destroy documents. When disposing of bills, mail and other documents with personal information, shred them.
• Protect your mailbox. To reduce your chances of your mail from being stolen replace your unlocking mailbox with one that locks.
• Keep your eyes open. When shopping online, look for “https” in the web address and for a security seal to ensure the website is secure. When shopping in a store, keep an eye on your credit card. Always ask for your receipt, especially when your credit card transaction has been voided.
• Passwords. We use passwords for almost everything online. Change your passwords frequently. Use a combination of upper and lower cases, numbers and symbols. Try not to use the same password for other websites and always remember to log off.
• Stay alert. High-tech thieves are always inventing new ways to steal your identity. Watch who is around you while at coffee shops or internet cafes. If an email seems suspicious, contact your financial institution or the service provider right away to see if the email is legit.
• Follow your instincts. If an offer seems too good to be true, it may be. Always err on the side of caution.
• Protect your children. Children’s identities are always a target because they do not apply for credit, have bad credit, looking for employment, or renting an apartment. Just like adults, children’s credit scores can be requested for free once a year. Check their credit score before they turn 16 because soon, they will be leaving for college, applying for jobs, and living on their own. That will give you enough time to straighten out any concerns.
Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.