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Frank's Top 10 Tips to Help Prevent Identity Theft

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As you can probably imagine, there are a multitude of ways to help prevent identity theft. However, Frank Abagnale has a “Top 10” list — ten rules he feels can best help you protect yourself, your credit, and your good name from identity thieves.

#1 Credit Protection: Your Top Priority.

Checking your credit report regularly is crucial to helping protect your credit. There are three primary reasons for this...

1. It enables you to verify the accuracy of activity in your file. By checking your report, you'll be able to verify new accounts opened and changes in account balances. This will help you minimize the impact an identity thief could have on your credit.

2. It gives you the opportunity to check for inaccurate information. It's important to check the accuracy of your file information so you can dispute any inaccurate information as soon as possible. The last thing you want is to be denied credit because of something as simple as a misspelling of your name.

3. It allows you to learn how you might be able to manage your credit. Knowing what's in your report helps you identify potential (or current) problems that you can work on to help maintain your credit status. This is important because, based upon your credit status, lenders decide whether or not to lend you money and how much interest they will charge.

#2 Your Social Security Number: Just Say “No!”

Along with the increasing use of the Social Security number as an identifier has come a growth in its abuse. Criminals who get hold of your Social Security number can use it to assume your identity and gain access to your bank account, credit account, utility records, and other personal information.

That's why it's imperative to provide your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary and share it exclusively with reputable, trustworthy individuals. When it comes to protecting your Social Security number, here are some other important things to remember...

  • Do not print your Social Security number on checks, business cards, or stationery.
  • Only carry your Social Security number in your wallet when you know you're going to need it. Otherwise, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you risk the chance of a stranger using it for their own means.
  • Make sure the information on your Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement is correct.
  • Do not use your Social Security number as a password or Personal Identification Number (PIN) on the telephone or the Internet. It's very simple for hackers to obtain this number and destroy your credit.

#3 Shred It! All of It!

Financial statements... pre–approved credit card offers... printed emails with sensitive and personal information on them — shred them! It's one of the most secure (and affordable) ways to help stop your personal information from getting into the hands of an identity thief.

Other than helping to prevent identity theft, there are other reasons why investing in a shredder can be beneficial — for both homes and businesses:
1. It's Just Good Business — The Government is placing the burden of protecting individuals on businesses — making sure they protect the documents and information in their possession. Every business that works with a consumer's private data should have a shredder.
2. Medical Record Security — In 1996, Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. So any business that is responsible for keeping medical records or transferring medical information must be familiar with this law and shred documents accordingly.
3. Help the Environment — When you shred and recycle your documents, less landfill space is used, trees are saved and airborne pollutants are not expelled through the burning of the paper. So if you think about it, shredding your documents not only helps protect your identity, but it protects the environment as well.

“I prefer micro cut shredders that turn paper into confetti.” — Frank Abagnale

#4 Credit Card Statements: It's in the Details.

Why check your credit card statement?

First and foremost, it's one of the fastest ways to determine if someone else has been using your card. If you see purchases listed that don't look familiar to you or if the balance is much higher than you had anticipated, these are signs that someone has been using your credit card number without your knowledge. Not surprisingly, if you don't check your statement and fraudulent charges are being made, you could just keep paying for a criminal's purchases without even realizing it!

IMPORTANT: Just because a criminal gets hold of your credit card number doesn't mean he or she will immediately run up huge bills. Not all thieves work this way. Many of them only withdraw or charge small amounts at different times so that they are less likely to be detected and the card issuers' monitoring systems might not spot the fraud as easily. Checking your statement also allows you to get an understanding of your spending habits. Not only can it result in a tighter budget (and more money savings), but it also allows you to see when your spending goes “out of whack” — another sign that an identity thief might have gotten hold of your credit card. When you check your credit card statement, make sure to check each transaction and you'll stand a much better chance of minimizing damage caused by an identity thief.

#5 Your Mailbox: A Signal to Criminals?

Picture it: A mailbox overflowing with catalogs, envelopes, and other types of mail for days in a row. That's the perfect signal to criminals that there's personal information for the taking and, more often than not, they will take it. Your mailbox is one of the riskiest “non-technological” points of identity theft. Why? Thieves have two ways of stealing your identity through your mail: rerouting your mail and mail theft. Mail rerouting criminals place a “change of address” with the U.S. Postal Service by filling out a form online or mailing in a card. Once the change of address takes place, the thief will start getting your mail — unfortunately that means they will then have access to mail that contains your bank account, credit card, and Social Security numbers.

Mail Theft This is a more direct form of theft: the thief simply takes your mail right out of the mailbox. It could be while you're visiting friends or family, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or whenever else the opportunity presents itself. Once again, more often than not there's information a thief can use to steal your identity.


  • Pick up your mail as soon as possible.
  • If you're going away, have someone you trust pick up your mail.
  • Don't leave out-going mail in your mailbox. Drop it off at the post office. But if you must leave mail in the mailbox, do not put the flag up. It's a sign to thieves that there's mail for the taking.
  • Use electronic and online payments whenever possible.

ALERT!! If you notice that you don't receive mail for a few days in a row, this could mean that mail rerouting has occurred. Mail theft is a little less obvious because it can take place just once or over a period of time. If you haven't received bills or notices that you know should have been delivered, it's time to check with the companies from which the bills or notices would have been sent.

#6 Sharing is Good: Unless it's Personal.

Sharing can be a wonderful thing. When you share knowledge... happiness... gifts... and other things that add positively to someone else's life, it's a good thing. But when you share your personal data, information that might be used to commit fraud, things can go bad quickly.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your information sharing habits:
Do you sometimes write your Social Security number on checks?
Do you share files and personal information over the Internet?
Do you ever provide credit card information to telemarketers?
Do you show your birthdate and address on social networking sites?

If you answered “YES” to the questions above, you might not be sufficiently protecting your credit and identity. Sometimes information is shared without even realizing it. For instance, when communicating on social networking sites with “friends,” many people announce events like an upcoming vacation or the recent purchase of an expensive item. Unfortunately, it's not only “friends” who see these postings, but everyone who has access to them. Your job is to protect your information. So simply being more selective with whom you share your information can decrease your chances of ever becoming a victim of identity theft.

#7 Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs): Be on the Lookout.

How did we ever live without ATMs? They give us cash, retrieve our balances, even deposit checks — 24/7. The problem is, identity thieves work the same hours. For instance, thieves set up some ATMs to “skim” cards. A small device captures information on your card's magnetic strip. Criminals can then acquire your credit or debit card information and make duplicates of your card to sell as they please. Thieves have also found ways to “bug” keypads. Typically, the keypads show no signs of manipulation because the “bugging” device is on the inside of the keypad. These devices still transmit customer data to the merchant, but they also capture personal information from the card, as well as your PIN. When the thieves retrieve the device, they have everything they need to commit credit fraud.

1. Review your credit and debit card accounts so you can spot suspicious activity right away.
2. Do not trust keypads that don't look right, because tampering by inexperienced criminals can sometimes be obvious. Make certain the keypad is firmly attached to the counter or console.
3. Protect your PIN by covering the keypad with your hand and do not use ATMs where there is a camera positioned behind you.

Reminder!! ATM transactions come in second place as one of the many ways criminals gain access to information.

#8 Password Protection: Stay Strong.

Websites and ATMs, computer operating systems, and smart phones. Just about every piece of technology we use today requests that we enter a password. It's a way to identify us as us, a way to protect our information. But does it?

When first creating a password, there are two things to consider:
1. Selecting a password strong enough to guard against cyber intruders. With such sophisticated hacking software available, it's a simple process for criminals to decode passwords and gain access to personal information.
2. Remembering the selected password. We're told that in order to protect ourselves, we should create a password using uncommon strings of numbers and letters. But how are we supposed to remember them?

The DOs and DON'Ts of Password Creation


1. Use 8 or more characters — 14 characters is ideal.

2. Combine letters, numbers, and symbols. If the website does not allow symbols, create a password with more than 15 characters (if the site allows that password length).

3. Write your passwords down and keep them in a safe place. (Written passwords are safer than those maintained in computer password manager programs.)

4. Change your passwords on a regular basis.


1. Do not use character sequences or repetitive characters (e.g. 123456, 8#8#8#8, 444444).

2. Do not use personal information (e.g. part of your name, birthday, or Social Security number).

3. Do not use the same password in too many places. (If your password should become compromised, all other systems using that password will become compromised.)

4. Do not share your password with anyone or reveal it over email.

#9 Credit Cards: The Fewer the Better.

Simply stated, the fewer credit and debit cards you have, the less chance you have of running into problems. What kind of problems?

Let's take a look...
Inability to Detect Fraud — If you use ten credit cards and five debit cards, how would you know if a criminal is using any of them? You'd have to keep daily tabs on each card — something most people are too busy to do.
Increased Risk of Identity Theft — It comes down to logic — the more cards you use (or have in your wallet), the greater the chance that one will get lost or stolen. The damage to your credit might also increase since it's easier to overlook a missing card when you have several.
Credit Problems — It's easy to run into credit problems if you use multiple credit and debit cards. For instance, you might be out shopping and grab a card from your wallet or purse. Forgetting you used that card only a few days before, your charge is denied because you've exceeded your spending limit.

#10 Computer Security: Be on Guard.

It used to be that a “hacker” was thought of as a gifted programmer. But times have changed. And with so many technological advances and such easy access to multiple systems, hacking is now defined as “the unauthorized use of computer and network resources.”

How can you protect yourself?

Firewall Protection
In the days when we accessed the Internet through dial–up connections, our computers were assigned a new and unique IP address every time we connected. In a way, that made us a moving target, making it more difficult for a hacker to attack us. Today we use DSL and cable connections, which give us high speed, but unlike the dial–up connections, they also give us a single IP address. This makes us more vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves. A firewall can block hackers from accessing your computer.

Antivirus Protection
Although we use the Internet and email for lots of things, a big part of what we use it for is sharing. From photos and news articles to videos and documents, it's all about sharing data. Sometimes, however, this data can contain viruses that attack our computer hard drives and can ruin our computers. Antivirus protection (like the Norton Internet Security software that's part of your PrivacyGuard benefits) helps keep bugs and viruses far away from your system.

Spyware Protection
Spyware: malicious software that hides on your computer and sends information about you, your computer, or your web-surfing habits to someone else on the Internet. Attack spyware using spyware protection software that's typically available from antivirus software manufacturers. And again... always be careful of the ads you click and what programs and other items you decide to download!

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