Social Security Number
Your Social Security number is the most valuable piece of your personal financial information because it is your main identifying number for employment, tax reporting, and credit history tracking purposes. If your Social Security number falls in the hands of a thief, you could face serious problems as a result. A thief could use your Social Security number to obtain employment, open credit card accounts or obtain loans under your name. The best way to protect yourself is to guard your Social Security number and provide it to others only when absolutely necessary. Some businesses request your Social Security number for general record keeping. If they do, ask how your Social Security number will be used and whether you can use any other identifying number instead.
If your Social Security number is stolen, applying for a new one may not solve your identity theft problem. For example, a new Social Security number may not ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old Social Security number with your new one. Moreover, even when the old credit history is not associated with your new Social Security number, the absence of any credit history under your new Social Security number may make it more difficult to obtain credit.
There are numerous ways in which an identity thief can make unauthorized charges on your existing credit card accounts, or open up new accounts under your name. An ordinary thief might steal your wallet or purse and try to make use of your stolen cards and checks. The more sophisticated thief can fill out a change of address form from the post office to get all your bills sent to another address. He or she can also call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, change the mailing address on your credit card accounts. The impostor then runs up charges on your account. Since your bills are being sent to a new address, you may not immediately realize the problem. An identity thief might also open new accounts under your name by stealing and completing a pre-approved credit card offer sent to you in the mail, using your name, date of birth and Social Security number, but a different address, on the application form. If this occurs, you may not discover that a new account has been opened under your name until the unpaid bills appear on your credit report.
Identity thieves can also obtain your credit card information from purchases you make at stores, over the telephone or online. For example, the credit card information you provide in person or over the telephone during a purchase can be improperly used to make unauthorized charges on your account. In addition, thieves can obtain your credit card number and other personal information through fraudulent or unsecured Web sites. No matter how professional looking the Web site, check the company’s reliability with the Better Business Bureau before doing business with it, review the Web site’s security policy, and be sure to use a secure browser if you are providing credit card information online. In the address window of your browser, check to see that the first part of the company’s Web address changes from "http://" to "https://;" and also check the lower corner of the Web page to see whether a lock or key symbol appears, signifying security. Using a secure browser helps to ensure the safety of your personal data when it is being transmitted to a company’s computers.
Identity thieves can drain your checking account by stealing your checks or your checking account number from your home or office and forging your signature, or by making counterfeit checks in your name, using a home computer. Some thieves even use cleaning solvent to remove what is already written on a check, making it payable to themselves. If your checks have been stolen or misused, immediately notify your bank, place a stop payment order, and close your checking account.
Be aware that identity thieves can also open checking accounts in your name using personal information such as your Social Security number. When they write bad checks on that account, those debts appear on your credit report.
Cellular Telephone Service
Identity thieves can establish new cellular telephone service in your name or make unauthorized calls that seem to come from, and are billed to, your cellular phone. Others make unauthorized charges by using your calling card and PIN. If this occurs, contact your service provider to close your existing account, and establish another one with a new PIN.