Protecting your identity with 5 easy steps so you're not a victim of a crime

WEST PALM BEACH - Identity theft is a big problem in South Florida, and news of an Army vet who had his identity stolen during open heart surgery, reminds us all to be extra careful with our ID. The Consumer Watchdog has five tips to make your identity safer.

1.       Block out your social security number on your Medicare Card

Some experts say make a copy of your Medicare card. Keep the original at home in a safe place. Then use a Sharpie to cross off the last four digits on the copy. You can even cut them off. You know your Social and don't need to let crooks know it too. The last four digits are often used for verification purposes. Don't carry around your Medicare card unless you are headed to the doctor.

2.       Leave questions asking for your social security number blank

Many forms still ask for your social security number, but typically the business doesn't need it. This includes most doctors unless you are on Medicare or an insurance plan that uses your social as your medical number.

Even the cable or utility company may not need your social. Most want to know your social security number so they can see if you have good credit and will pay your bills. Sometimes you can pay a nominal and refundable deposit instead of giving your social security number. Ask for other options before you give your social to anyone.

3.       Stop pre-approved credit card offers and junk mail

To stop pre-approved credit card offers , call 1-888-5-OPT OUT. Unfortunately, you will need to provide your social security number because these offers are linked to your credit.

To stop junk mail, sign up with the Direct Marketing Association .

Note: it takes a few months for you to see a reduction in mail.

4.       Setup a secondary, disposable online identity and email account

The Florida Attorney General says you should sign up for a secondary free email account with an incorrect address and phone number. This will help you control spam in your real Inbox, and keep the thieves guessing.

5.       Check your credit report at least once a year

You can check your credit for free once a year at Annual Credit Report . You do not have to pay to check your credit. Some of the "other" sites may trick you into paying. Annual Credit Report is the only free site.

You can check your report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion once a year for free. While you can check all three at once, you can also spread out your checks. I advise people check one every four months from Annual Credit Report. For example, go to Annual Credit Report in January and check your TransUnion report. In May, go to Annual Credit Report and check Equifax. Then in September, go to Annual Credit Report and check your Experian report.  It does not matter the order you check each report. Just keep tabs on your credit.



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