First, unless you have initiated the contact or you are certain who is calling you, do not give personal information over the phone, and never by email. Thieves may pose as representatives from businesses, government agents, bank representatives or solicitors to gather information from you, such as, account numbers, your mother’s maiden name or other identifying pieces of information. You should not carry your Social Security card, list your Social Security number on checks or use your Social Security number as your driver’s license number. You should also shred receipts and old statements that contain account numbers or personal information, as well as unsolicited offers from credit card services, banks or insurance providers.
Next, you should be creative when creating Personal Identification Numbers, passwords and usernames for your accounts. Do not use the same or similar passwords, or even variations of the same password, for multiple websites. You don’t want a security breach at your favorite shopping site to compromise your bank, credit card or brokerage accounts. You may consider using a random password generator and installing software on your personal computers to help protect against spyware and computer hackers. Likewise, if possible, do not let Internet shopping sites store your credit card information.
To minimize the chance your name and contact information is sold, you should avoid promotional scams. Filling out an entry to win a free vacation usually results in your name being added to a junk mail list. Even listing your phone number can result in persistent calls from salesmen. You should also consider using an alternate email address when posting to Internet forums or signing up for mailing lists. Using an alternate email account rather than your personal email address can reduce the amount of spam and phishing emails that reach your inbox.
Additionally, monitor your regular mailbox. Avoid placing outgoing mail in your mailbox and try to avoid having ordered items delivered to an unsecured mailbox. Sometimes packing slips or receipts contain personal information. You can also opt out of unsolicited credit card offers at optoutprescreen.com. Finally, follow up with any creditors if bills do not arrive in a timely manner. Missing bills could be an indication a thief has taken control of your account.
William G. Lako Jr., CFP, is an executive in residence at Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business and a principal at Henssler Financial. Lako is a certified financial planner.The MDJ will periodically publish columns from KSU business faculty.