MIAMI – Each year, millions of Americans become victims of identity theft. A recent report issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) indicates that Florida ranks second in the nation for fraud and identity theft complaints. Furthermore, the report also indicates that South Florida ranked number one on the list of ID theft complaints in both the state and nation, with 184 complaints per 100,000 residents. Nearly 10,000 people in South Florida filed complaints with the FTC.
While we can’t prevent identity theft from occurring, we can take certain measures to safeguard our information. The Miami-Dade County Consumer Services Department wants you to be alert and informed to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of this serious economic crime.
The following tips from the FTC will make it more difficult for identity thieves to access your personal information.
Protect your Social Security Card: Keep you Social Security card in a safe place at home and don’t carry it in your wallet. Provide your Social Security number only when strictly necessary. Under certain circumstances, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want, unless you provide your Social Security number. Getting answers to these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your Social Security number with the business. The decision to share is yours.
Keep your trash and mail away from identity thieves: Always shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you’re discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. Deposit your outgoing mail including personal identifying information in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, contact the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or online at www.usps.gov, to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
Be on guard when using the Internet: The Internet can give you access to information, entertainment, financial offers, and countless other services but at the same time, it can leave you vulnerable to online scammers, identity thieves and more. For practical tips to help you be on guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information, visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov.
Select difficult passwords: Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, a series of consecutive numbers, or a single word that would appear in a dictionary.
Safeguard your purse and wallet: Protect your purse and wallet at all times. Don’t carry your Social Security number or card; leave it in a secure place. Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need when you go out. The less personal information you carry in your purse, the better.
Store information in secure locations: Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house. Share your personal information only with those family members who have a legitimate need for it. Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work; do the same with copies of administrative forms that have your sensitive personal information.
If you feel that your identity may be at risk, immediately request a copy of your personal credit report and review it thoroughly. In addition, ask that a fraud alert message be added to your credit report to help protect your credit information. Fraud alert messages notify potential credit grantors to verify your identification before extending credit in your name in case someone is using your information without your consent.