Practical Things You Can Do to Fight Fraud

“Protect your Social Security number, credit card and debit card numbers, PINs (personal identification numbers), passwords and other personal information.”

A thief can use these details to order checks or credit cards, apply for loans or otherwise commit fraud using your name.

Among the preventive measures you can take: Don't provide financial and other personal information in response to an unsolicited phone call, fax, letter or e-mail. It could be from a fraud artist masquerading as a legitimate business person or government official. Be particularly cautious with your Social Security Number (SSN). While your employer and financial institutions will need your SSN for tax purposes, you have the right to refuse requests for your SSN from merchants and service providers who have other ways to identify you. Also, if your state puts SSNs on driver's licenses, find out if you can use another number.

In addition, choose PINs and passwords for your bank and Internet accounts that will be tough for someone else to figure out. Don't use your birth date or home address, for example. More suggestions for guarding personal information appear elsewhere in this article and throughout our special report.

Deal only with legitimate, reputable businesses

Try to do business with companies you already know or that have been recommended. Do your research before giving money or personal information to an unfamiliar merchant, to charity or to any other organization. For example, contact your state's Attorney General's office or the Better Business Bureau and ask about complaints, lawsuits or other matters involving a company's reputation.

Get key details in writing and thoroughly check them out before agreeing to anything

Don't rely on a sales person's oral representations for a significant purchase or investment. Get as much written information as possible, including a contract, specifying cost information and your consumer rights. If a marketer refuses to supply written information or employs high-pressure sales tactics to get you to act fast, take that as your cue to say "goodbye."

Be extra careful when providing personal information over the telephone or the Internet

Scam artists hide at the other end of the phone line or computer screen. So, don't give bank account information, Social Security Numbers or personal data in response to an unsolicited phone call or e-mail. Remember that a legitimate company would never ask for passwords or other personal information by e-mail. Before providing credit card or other information to a Web site, confirm that the site is legitimate, not a copycat designed by a crook, by verifying that the Web site's address is an exact match for what appears in literature from the company or some other reliable source. You'd be wise to avoid an online merchant that doesn't list a phone number or physical address which are possible signs that the Web site and its owners are fraudulent. Also look for assurances on the Web site about security procedures for safely transmitting and storing your credit card number, password and other personal information you're asked to provide.

Limit the confidential information in your wallet in case it gets lost or stolen

Don't carry around more checks, credit cards or other bank items than you need. Consider reducing the number of credit cards you carry by canceling ones you don't use. Keep passports, Social Security cards and birth certificates in a secure place, not in your wallet. Never keep passwords or PINs on or near your checkbook, credit card, ATM card or debit card.

Review your credit card bills and bank statements as soon as they arrive

If you notice something suspicious, perhaps a credit card purchase you didn't make or an unauthorized withdrawal from your checking account, contact your financial institution immediately. While federal and state laws limit your losses if you're victimized by a financial fraud, sometimes your maximum liability depends on how quickly you report the problem. Also make sure you get your statement every month. If no statement arrives, that could be a sign that an identity thief has changed your mailing address for purposes of committing fraud in your name but from another location.

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