Protect yourself against identity theft


Anthony Engrassia


Business Columnist

Monday, August 14, 2017

Whether they're snatching your purse, diving into your dumpster, stealing your mail or hacking into your computer, they're out to get you.

Who are they? Identity thieves.

Identity thieves can empty your bank account, max out your credit cards, open new accounts in your name and purchase furniture, cars and even homes on the basis of your credit history. If they give your personal information to the police during an arrest and then don't show up for a court date, it’s a possibility that you may be subsequently arrested and jailed.

And what will you get for their efforts? You'll get the headache and expense of cleaning up the mess they leave behind.

You may never be able to completely prevent your identity from being stolen, but here are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.

■ Check yourself out: It's important to review your credit report periodically. Check to make sure that all the information contained in it is correct, and be on the lookout for any fraudulent activity.

You may get your credit report for free once a year. To do so, contact the Annual Credit Report Request Service online atwww.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.

■ Secure your number: Your most important personal identifier is your Social Security number (SSN). Guard it carefully. Never carry your Social Security card with you unless you'll need it. The same goes for other forms of identification that display your SSN. Don't give it out over the phone unless you initiate the call to an organization you trust .

■ Keep your receipts: When you make a purchase with a credit or debit card, you’re given a receipt. Don't throw it away or leave it behind; save your receipts until you can check them against your monthly credit card and bank statements, and watch your statements for purchases you didn’t make.

■ When you toss it, shred it: Before you throw out any financial records such as credit or debit card receipts and statements, cancelled checks or even offers for credit you receive in the mail, shred the documents, preferably with a cross-cut shredder.

■ Keep a low profile: Whatever else you may want your computer to do, you don't want it to inadvertently reveal your personal information to others. Take steps to help assure that this won't happen. “If a stranger calls, don't answer.” Don’t open e-mails from people you don't know.

Most of all be diligent — as the grizzled duty sergeant used to say on a televised police drama, “Be careful out there.” The identity you save may be your own.

Anthony Engrassia is an investment adviser representative of Mutual of Omaha Investor Services.