Identity theft remains the top consumer complaint.
For the 14th year in row, it topped the Federal Trade Commission’s rankings of consumer concerns. There were 290,000 complaints filed with the agency last year.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following advice for safeguarding your personal information:
• At home, secure your financial documents in a locked location. At work, lock your wallet or purse in a safe location.
• Limit what you carry to identification and the debit and credit cards you need.
• Before sharing personal information with a doctor’s office, school, work or business, ask why they need it, how they keep it safe and what happens if you don’t share it.
• Before you toss paperwork, shred it. This includes receipts, credit and loan offers, applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards and any document with account or personal information.
• If anyone offers free health services or products, don’t share your health plan information with them.
• Black out or otherwise destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out.
• When sending mail, take it to a post office or postal collection box. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. And request a vacation hold on your mail whenever you will be away for a few days or more.
• Have new checks mailed to a secure location – to your work, to your bank where you can pick them up at your convenience, or to a locked mailbox at your home.
• When online, be aware of impersonators and scammers in email, in social media and on websites.
• Before disposing of a computer, delete all files and programs with personal information. Then, overwrite the entire hard drive with a wipe utility program.
• Before disposing of a mobile device, follow the instructions in the user manual for how to completely remove personal information.
• Create strong passwords, such as phrases with numbers and symbols. Keep your passwords private. Change them several times each year.
• Refrain from sharing personal information on social networks. Scammers will use information from user profiles to hack security questions for personal and financial accounts.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, learn how to create an identity theft report at www.consumer.ftc.gov.
For more tips you can trust, visit the BBB at www.bbb.org or call (509) 455-4200.
Erin T. Dodge, BBB editor