Don’t be a victim of an identity crime

Wanda Southerland
Contributor to The News

The holidays have passed and as everyone settles into the New Year, this is a good time to make sure your online accounts haven’t been hacked. Millions upon millions of online transactions took place as consumers took to the Internet during the busiest shopping time of the year. Last year, Equifax suffered a data breach that exposed more than 140 million customer’s personal information. While that breach may not have affected you, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer those challenge questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information.

Several governmental agencies, including the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Identity Crimes Unit, provides tips for protecting your identity and what to do if you suspect you may be a victim.

Protecting your personal information can help reduce your risk of identity theft. The Crimes Unit offers these four main recommendations: know who you share information with; securely store and dispose of your personal information, especially your Social Security number; ask questions before deciding to share your personal information; and maintain appropriate security on your computers and other electronic devices.

In addition to securing your financial documents and records from anyone with access to your home, limit what you carry in your purse or wallet. Leave your Social Security card at home. The best safety measure is to memorize your Social Security number. Before sharing your information, ask why your number is needed and what steps are takes to safeguard it. Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications — anything that has personal information.

Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit by mail. According to officials, you can opt out for five years or permanently. Call 888-567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com. The three nationwide credit reporting companies operate the phone number and website.

Know who you share your information with online. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact and know whom you are dealing with. If a company claims they have an account with you and ask for personal information, contact them through customer service.

Keep data on your computer safe by encrypting your data by using encryption software that scrambles information you send over the Internet. Keep those passwords private and use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank and other accounts.

Don’t over share when posting on social networking sites. Consider limiting access to your networking page to small groups. It is highly recommended to never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number or account numbers.

When using Wi-Fi on a public wireless  network, make sure your information will be protected.

If you think you are a victim of identity theft, immediately file a report with your local police or sheriff’s department. The Identity Crimes Unit of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security has compiled a resource kit to assist victims in minimizing the damage caused by identity crimes. This kit also contains an Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit that can be submitted online to the Federal Trade Commission at the following link: www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Complete the affidavit and read the remaining information in the kit to see if there are any other steps you should be taking to protect yourself from further damage or financial loss.