Q: Could you provide some information on protecting yourself against identity theft? I am retired with a limited income and modest assets so I can’t afford to have anything happen.

A: Identity theft occurs when someone manages to obtain another individual’s personal information (without your permission) and uses this to commit fraud or other crimes. This happens more often than you would think and can be a nightmare to rectify.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation strongly encourages people to take the following steps to prevent identity theft:

1. Protect your Social Security number, credit card and debit card numbers, PINs and passwords. Under no circumstances should you provide this information to anyone unless you are able to verify the authenticity of the source making the request. Limit the personal information you carry with you while out in public. Consider what a thief would be able to learn about you if your wallet or purse was stolen. Be aware of other people nearby when using an ATM, be as careful as possible when entering your PIN.

2. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Remove your mail as soon after being delivered as possible, consider having someone you trust pick up your mail if you will be away from home for an extended period of time. Another option is to contact the Post Office and request a hold on all mail until your return. While it is definitely more convenient to leave outgoing mail for pick up by your mail carrier it is much safer to put it directly in a mailbox or the Post Office.

3. Sign up for direct deposit, this reduces the possibility of someone stealing a check and forging your signature.

4. Keep your trash clean, while this may sound funny your garbage could be a treasure trove for dishonest persons. Use a shredder before disposing of any paperwork that could contain identifying information (otherwise rip into small pieces). Also remove labels from prescription bottles before tossing out.

5. Watch your bank statements and credit card bills. Carefully review every transaction to make sure there are no discrepancies. If a statement is unusually late make call customer service to make sure this has not been stolen.

6. Review your credit report annually for warning signs of activity that is not familiar and could be your first indication someone has used your identification to sign up for a credit card or loan.

7. Avoid identity theft on the Internet. Use caution in providing any personal information on a website unless there is clear information on how this will be protected. Be particularly careful of unsolicited emails.

For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890. Do you have a question? We encourage comments and inquiries from our readers. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.

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