Monthly Column: Helpful tips to protect yourself from identity theft


    By: Michael H. Ranzenhofer


    Over the last decade, identity theft has been causing ever-increasing problems for many people across New York State.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, as many as 9 million Americans’ identities are stolen every year.  


    Due to the availability of information in computer databases; increased use of credit, debit and ATM cards; and the growth in e-commerce, identity theft has become the number one financial and consumer crime of the information age.  


    Taking the necessary steps to protect your identity is so important.  While you may not be able to completely protect yourself against identity theft, there are ways to minimize risk.  Here are five tips to help you protect yourself:


    Tip #1: Do not give out personal information by phone, mail or over the Internet unless you initiate the contact or know who you’re dealing with. For example, if someone claiming to be from your bank calls to “update” your information, don’t answer the questions.  Call your bank yourself and find out if the inquiry is legitimate.


    Tip #2: Pay close attention to your billing cycles, and contact your creditors if your statements don’t arrive on time.  A pattern of missing statements could mean that an identity thief has changed the mailing address for your account.


    Tip #3: Shred charge card receipts, outdated credit cards, insurance forms, banking information before you throw them away.


    Tip #4: Promptly remove incoming correspondence from your mailbox and use post office collection boxes or your local post office for outgoing mail.  If you are going away, contact your post office to put a hold on your mail.


    Tip #5: Order free copies of your credit report on an annual basis and review them carefully to ensure that the records are accurate. Federal law allows you to obtain one free copy of your credit report every twelve months.  You can order your free credit report by contacting any one of the three nationwide credit bureaus directly.


    Lastly, a State law that allows you to place a security freeze on your credit information may also assist you in protecting yourself.  A security freeze prevents your credit information from being released without your consent, preventing outside parties from viewing your records.  


    Identity theft can have horrible consequences for consumers, such as causing hard-working individuals to lose their good financial standing and credit ratings.  I hope that you find each of these tips helpful in making a conscious effort to safeguard your personal information so that you can protect your good name and finances from identity thieves.  As always, if I can be of assistance to you in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me. 


    Senator Ranzenhofer's monthly column appeared in the Amherst and Clarence Bee on August 21.