MONTVILLE, NJ – Creating complicated passwords that are different for every site and protecting one’s driver’s license were just some of the advice Towaco Civic Association members were given at the Jan. 18 meeting. Chris DeSimone of American Century Investments spoke about identity theft.

“Protecting your driver’s license is important because of ‘cloning,’” DeSimone said. “Thieves can create a new driver’s license with your name but their photo. If thieves take your driver’s license and your Medicare card – which has your Social Security number on it, now they have everything they need.”

DeSimone encouraged members to write the amount for checks on the very far left margin of the “amount” line, to check children’s credit scores regularly, and to file one’s taxes early with a personal identification number so that no one can file using your name, to avoid financial fraud. He encouraged members to not leave health care provider forms face-up after filling them out, because they contain personal information that thieves can steal by simply walking by and seeing the forms on the clipboard.

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“But a lot of identity theft is done the old-fashioned way,” DeSimone said. “Thieves steak your mail out of the garbage, or steal your wallet. Shredding is important.”

Montville Township runs shredding events four times a year which are free for residents. The next event will be held April 9 from 9 a.m. until noon.

Identity theft is harder to do via social media, but users need to be aware of what they post, DeSimone said.

“Google knows everything about you – traffic updates are because of all those phones in one place!” he said.

By using maiden names, children’s names and pet names as passwords, or posting that they are not at home, social media users are helping identity thieves, DeSimone said.

“Make sure your privacy settings are set to ‘Friends only,’” he said.

DeSimone suggested using different passwords for various websites, not using one’s month or year of birth and using a capital letter with a symbol (#$%^) in a password to make it tougher to hack. He recommended a password manager application.

DeSimone also warned against clicking directly on links contained in emails.

“You might get an email that really looks like it’s from your bank, or your employer,” he said. “It may look legit. It might have the correct logos and font. It asks you for more information about yourself, or to change your password. But never click on the link. Instead, go to a new tab and go to the website yourself.”

Scammers may also try to trick you into revealing personal information over the phone, DeSimone said.

“They may call you and threaten that they’re going to close your account, and your caller I.D. may say it’s from a well known company,” DeSimone said. “Just hang up.”

DeSimone also advised making a strong password for the wifi in members’ households, using an Apple personal computer (“there’s not as many people trying to write viruses for them”) and protecting one’s phone with fingerprint technology. He told members to empty out their wallets of items such as frequent flyer cards, health club cards and other unnecessary items, because thieves will call and try to get personal information based off the numbers and information contained on the cards. He especially recommended not leaving credit card information stored on websites.

If one is a victim of identity theft, DeSimone recommended closing all accounts, filing a police report, and contacting the credit agencies to lock down your credit information. He recommended documenting everything via email and getting names of contacts.

“Protect your documents, like your tax returns, birth certificates, and your insurance policy,” DeSimone said. “Don’t let your mail sit in your mailbox.”

“I really learned a lot of great tips,” said TCA President Kimberly Bott. “I’d like to thank TCA member Roger Moss of Montville Financial in Towaco for bringing in Mr. DeSimone.”

Authorized by federal law, every year a free credit report can be obtained from each credit reporting company. Click here for more information: Credit Report.