Financial Fraud: Don’t Be an Easy Target
The headlines are full of stories of identity theft and investment fraud. There are steps you can take to keep from being an easy target.
- Guard your Social Security number! Memorize the number and don’t carry your Social Security card unless you know you are going to need it (for example, it’s your first day at a new job and the employer will want to make a copy of it.)
- Just Say No. Don’t give your Social Security number to everyone who asks. If you have private insurance, doctors, dentists, laboratories, and other healthcare providers generally do not need your Social Security number to process your claim – they should only need your insurance information. If the medical provider asks for it, ask why they want it and what happens if you don’t want to give it. Be prudent in deciding whether to give it to them. Similarly, public schools, summer camps, and frequent shopper cards often request Social Security numbers, but if the number isn’t required to enroll in those programs, you shouldn’t give it. For more information, review the Social Security Administration’s pamphlet Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number.
- Have a Shredding Party. Destroy any documents containing your Social Security, bank account, credit card, or investment account numbers such as credit card statements, old checks and deposit slips, brokerage account statements, “pre-approved” credit offers, and don’t forget to destroy expired credit cards. When you get a new credit card, the expiration date changes, but most often the credit card number does not. If you don’t have a shredder, many office supply stores offer free shredding periodically throughout the year.
- Check Financial Accounts for Unusual Activity at Least Weekly. If there are charges for purchases you did not make on your statement, notify your bank or credit card company immediately. Many companies will remove fraudulent charges if reported on a timely basis.
- Get Your Free Credit Report. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the major credit reporting agencies. You can request yours here. Review it carefully for any accounts that you do not recognize. Fraudsters who steal Social Security numbers may use them to open credit card accounts or make large purchases in your name. If you see anything unexpected, contact the credit reporting agency immediately. If you are concerned about the unauthorized use of your credit, consider a voluntary credit security freeze. It will allow you to restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. You can read more here.
- Check Out Any Investment Advisers/Stockbrokers You Are Considering. Do not give money to anyone to invest on your behalf without checking him or her out first. You cannot judge a book by its cover and that includes a fellow member of your church, Uncle Joe’s next-door neighbor, or a parent you know from little league. Check out Registered Investment Advisers and stockbrokers at BrokerCheck It will include the financial adviser’s employment history, licensing, prior customer complaints, and any disciplinary history.
No one is guaranteed to be safe from financial fraud, but don’t be an easy target. It is a lot easier to safeguard your personal financial information than it is to clean up the mess if your identity is stolen or your bank account is emptied by a fraudster.