Helpful Tips from the FTC
Keeping Your Personal Information Secure Offline
Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. Keep your information secure from roommates or workers who come into your home.
Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office.
Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.
Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.
Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products.
Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail.
When you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.
Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by mail. You can opt out for five years or permanently. To opt out, call 1-888-567-8688 or go to https://www.optoutprescreen.com/. The three nationwide credit reporting companies operate the phone number and website. Prescreened offers can provide many benefits. If you opt out, you may miss out on some offers of credit.
Keeping Your Personal Information Secure Online
Know who you share your information with. Store and dispose of your personal information securely.
Be alert to impersonators.
Make sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.
Safely Dispose of Personal Information
Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
Before you dispose of a mobile device, check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacture’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device. Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a mobile device. Remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.
Encrypt Your Data
Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the Internet. A lock icon on the status bar of your Internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
Keep Passwords Private
Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank, and other accounts. Be creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, I want to see the Pacific Ocean could become 1W2CtPo.
Don’t overshare on social networking sites.
If you post too much information about yourself, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer challenge questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.
Securing Your Social Security Number
Keep a close hold on your Social Security Number (SSN) and ask questions before deciding to share it. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification. If someone asks you to share your SSN or your child’s, ask:
- why they need it
- how it will be used
- how they will protect it
- what happens if you don’t share the number
- The decision to share is yours. A business may not provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide your number. Sometimes you will have to share your number. Your employer and financial institutions need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. A business may ask for your SSN so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service.
What’s a Robocall?
If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall.
You’ve probably gotten robocalls about candidates running for office, or charities asking for donations. These robocalls are allowed. But if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. In addition to the phone calls being illegal, their pitch most likely is a scam.
What’s the Reason for the Spike in Robocalls?
Technology is the answer. Companies are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost. The companies that use this technology don’t bother to screen for numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry. If a company doesn’t care about obeying the law, you can be sure they’re trying to scam you.
What’s the FTC Doing About Robocalls?
During the last few years, the FTC has stopped billions of robocalls that offer everything from fraudulent credit card services and so-called auto warranty protection to home security systems and grant procurement programs. Tracing these calls is a tough job.
Many different companies use the same or very similar recorded messages.
Robocallers fake the caller ID information that you see on your phone. That’s called caller ID spoofing and new technology makes it very easy to do. In some cases, the fraudulent telemarketer may want you to think the call is from your bank, or another entity you’ve done business with. Sometimes, the telephone number may show up as “unknown” or “123456789.” Other times, the number is a real one belonging to someone who has no idea his or her number is being misused.
Robocallers often place the calls through Internet technology that hides their location.
What Should You Do If You Get a Robocall?
If you get a robocall:
- Hang up the phone. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator and don’t press any other number to get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.
- Consider contacting your phone provider and asking them to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. Remember that telemarketers change Caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.
- Report your experience to the FTC online at https://www.ftc.gov/ or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
What Prerecorded Calls Are Allowed?
Some prerecorded messages are permitted. For example, messages that are purely informational may be prerecorded. That means you may receive calls to let you know your flight’s been cancelled, reminders about an appointment, or messages about a delayed school opening. But the business doing the calling isn’t allowed to promote the sale of any goods or services. Prerecorded messages from a business that is contacting you to collect a debt also are permitted, but messages offering to sell you services to reduce your debt are barred.
Other exceptions include political calls and calls from certain health care providers. For example, pharmacies are permitted to use prerecorded messages to provide prescription refill reminders. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.