25 Important Steps To Reduce Your Risk of Becoming A Victim of Identity Theft:

Indentity TheftBeing a realtor is so much more than just knowing about housing but to guide clients through the buying process and a significant step in purchasing real estate is securing a mortgage loan. Identity theft could possibly threaten the chances of acquiring a loan and our goal is to help prevent identity theft for our current or future clients, it is one less hurtle to get over when purchasing or refinancing a home. Right now with fraud and identity theft being as prevalent as they are mortgages can be tougher to obtain because of things like identity theft.  Keeping your identity secure is one out of many ways to maintain a good credit score which greatly impacts your ability to secure a low mortgage interest rate. Without a good credit score even renting a house or apartment is very difficult and can wind up costing you tons of money in extra security deposits, increased rent, etc.  Not to mention the cost associated with increased interest rates and the fees for services to help get your credit back on track.  Although you cannot prevent identity theft, you can reduce your risk of fraud by following the tips in this guide. The most important advice we can give you is to check your credit report at least once a year. If you are a victim of identity theft, you will catch it early by checking your credit report regularly. The 25 steps below are things you could do around your house to help protect your identity.

Credit cards, debit cards, and credit reports:

1.Reduce the number of credit and debit cards that you carry in your wallet. Only carry one or two credit cards and your ATM card in your wallet. If you can’t reduce the number of cards that you carry, make sure to keep a list of those cards, card number, and 1-800 numbers so that you can easily and quickly report any evidence of fraud to your financial institution.

2. When using your credit or debit cards at restaurants and stores, pay close attention to how the magnetic stripe information is swiped by the waiter or clerk. Dishonest employees have been known to use small hand-held devices called skimmers to quickly swipe the card and then later download the account number data onto a personal computer.

3. Never give out your SSN, credit or debit card number or other personal information over the phone, by mail, or on the Internet unless you have a trusted business relationship with the company.

4. Always take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container. When shopping, put receipts in your wallet rather than in the shopping bag.

5. Watch the mail when you expect a new or reissued credit card to arrive. Contact the issuer if the card does not arrive.

6. Order your credit report at least once a year. Federal law gives you the right to one free credit report each year from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The earlier you detect fraud, the easier and quicker it will be to clean up your credit files and regain your financial health.

Passwords and PINS:

7. When creating passwords and PINs, don’t use the last four digits of your Social Security number, mother's maiden name, your birthdate, middle name, pet's name, consecutive numbers or anything else that could easily be discovered by thieves. It's best to create passwords that combine letters and numbers.

8. Memorize all your passwords. Don't record them on anything in your wallet.

9. Shield your hand when using a bank ATM machine or making long distance phone calls with your phone card. "Shoulder surfers" may be nearby with binoculars or video camera.
Social Security numbers:

10. Protect your Social Security number. Release it only when absolutely necessary (like tax forms, employment records, most banking, stock and property transactions). The SSN is the key to your credit and banking accounts and is the prime target of criminals.

11. Do not say your SSN out loud when you are in a public place. And do not let merchants, health care providers, or others say your SSN out loud. Whisper or write it down on a piece of paper instead. Be sure to retrieve and shred that paper.

12. Do not carry your SSN card in your wallet except for situations when it is required, the first day on the job, for example. If possible, do not carry wallet cards that display the SSN, such as insurance cards, except when needed to receive healthcare services
Internet and computer safeguards:

13. Install a firewall on your home computer to prevent hackers from obtaining personal identifying and financial data from your hard drive. This is especially important if you connect to the Internet by DSL or cable modem.

14. Install and update virus protection software to prevent a worm or virus from causing your computer to send out files or other stored information.

15. Password-protect files that contain sensitive personal data, such as financial account information. Create passwords that combine 6-8 numbers and letters, upper and lower case.

16. Before disposing of your computer, remove data by using a strong "wipe" utility program. Do not rely on the "delete" function to remove files containing sensitive information.

17. Never respond to "phishing" email messages. These appear to be from your bank, eBay, or PayPal. They instruct you to visit their web site, which looks just like the real thing. There, you are told to confirm your account information, provide your SSN, date of birth and other personal information. Legitimate financial companies never email their customers with such requests. These messages are the work of fraudsters attempting to obtain personal information in order to commit identity theft.

Reducing access to your personal data:

18. If possible, install a locked mailbox at your residence to deter mail theft. Or use a post office box or a commercial mailbox service. When you are away from home for an extended time, have your mail held at the Post Office, or ask a trusted neighbor to pick it up.

19. When ordering new checks, if at all possible, pick them up at the bank. If you have a post office box, use that address on your checks rather than your home address so thieves will not know where you live.

20. When you move to a new residence with a locked mailbox, be sure to have the post office install new keys. This will ensure that you are the only one to grant access to your mailbox. There is no way to know how many copies were made of the mailbox key prior to you taking possession and this will help to reduce the risk of un-authorized access to your mail.

Responsible information handling:

21. Each month, carefully review your credit card, bank and phone statements, including cellular phone bills, for unauthorized use

22. Convert as much bill-paying as you can to automatic deductions from your checking account and/or credit account Consider using the Internet for banking and paying bills. With fewer account statements and bills mailed to your home, you will reduce the risk of mail theft and identity theft.

23. Do not toss pre-approved credit offers in your trash or recycling bin without first tearing them into very small pieces or shredding them with a cross-cut shredder. Do the same with other sensitive information like credit card receipts, phone bills, bank account statements, investment account reports, and so on.

24. Use a gel pen for writing checks. Experts say that gel ink contains tiny particles of color that are trapped in the paper, making check washing more difficult.

25. Store personal information securely in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or have service work done in your home. Use a locking file cabinet or safe.