Prevent Identity Theft - Simple steps you can take

March 7th, 2012

Identity theft has become one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Credit identity theft is the unauthorized use of your identifying information to open new financial accounts. Identity thieves can also use your existing accounts to steal your money or charge items, leaving you with the bills. Although there are laws prohibiting this type of activity, identity theft is still rampant. It's important that you take steps to avoid becoming a victim.

Identity thieves are most interested in personal information that enables them to pass as you. The most crucial information thieves seek includes your Social Security number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, and existing bank account numbers.

Identity thieves will try to get this information in many ways, including:

  • Stealing your wallet or purse
  • Taking mail from your mailbox, especially bank statements and credit card statements
  • Diverting your mail by using a change of address form at the Post Office
  • Searching through your trash for copies of statements
  • Posing as a representative of your financial institution on the phone and asking about your account (also known as phishing). It's important to remember that First Interstate will never contact you by phone or text message and request confidential information we already have on file.

To keep your information private, consider these steps:

  1. Carry as few credit cards as possible and periodically check to make sure you still have them.
  2. Avoid carrying your Social Security card and passport unless they are needed.
  3. Never have your Social Security number on your checks.
  4. Shred all important papers that contain financial information before disposing of them.
  5. Dispose of credit card and ATM receipts properly.
  6. Sign new credit cards when you receive them.
  7. Guard your PINs (personal identification numbers) carefully.
  8. Make your PINs and passwords hard for someone else to guess. Don't use your birth date, phone number, or last four digits of your Social Security number.
  9. Keep a list of credit card and financial account numbers with associated customer service phone numbers in a safe place.
  10. Guard against mail theft by mailing payment envelopes from a collection box instead of raising the flag on your home mailbox.
  11. Never give personal information over the phone unless you made the call or you know with complete certainty with whom you are speaking.
  12. Review your financial and credit card statements carefully for unknown transactions. If you see one, call the institution immediately.
  13. Periodically order credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. The Federal Trade Commission established a program with the three credit agencies that enables consumers to receive a copy of their credit reports from each of the three credit agencies once a year. You can request and receive reports at the website or by phone (1-877-322-8228). These reports should show any unauthorized accounts.

While there are no guarantees these steps will prevent credit identity thieves from preying on you, the harder you make it for them to steal your identity, the less likely you are to become a credit identity theft victim.