Business & Finance

Keep Your Personal Information Secure When You Are Offline

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Alan Cohen
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Fraud is more prevalent than ever. Many clients are concerned about the impact that an instance of fraud can have on their accounts, and credit rating. Here are some important tips and actions you might consider taking to protect yourself.

Actions you can take today to protect yourself:

• Keep your information secure from roommates, caregivers, etc., by locking your financial documents in a safe place. Regularly shred outdated bank statements, expired charge cards, receipts, insurance forms, checks, prescription bottle labels and similar documents, when you don’t need them any longer.

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• When you go out, limit what you carry by taking only the identification, credit and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home in a safe place. Make a copy of your Medical card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry only the copy with you— unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office. Before you share personal information at your doctor’s office, workplace, a business, or your child’s school, ask why it is needed, how it will be safeguarded and the consequences of not sharing it.

• Try to promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox and take all outgoing mail to a post office collection box or the post office. If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail from the

U.S. Postal Service. Unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock, do not have your bank send new checks to your home. Instead, let the bank know that you would prefer to pick them up.

• 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 optoutprescreen.com. The three nationwide credit reporting companies operate this phone number and website.

Secure your Social Security number:

• Keep a close hold on your Social Security number (SSN) and ask questions before deciding to share it. When someone asks you to share your or a family member’s SSN or your child’s, ask if you can use a different form of identification, why they need it and how it will be used?

Remember the decision to share is yours, so ask what would happen if you don’t share your number. Sometimes a business will not provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide your number.

• There are situations in which you will have to share your number. Your employer and financial institutions need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. Or, a business may ask for your SSN so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, to rent an apartment, or sign up for a utility service. Before you decide to share, make sure it will be protected securely.

Monitor your accounts and credit reports:

• Carefully review your bank, credit and debit card, brokerage, insurance and other important account statements to make sure your contact information is up-to-date and there is no suspicious or unauthorized activity.

• Also, regularly review your credit reports.

Consumers have the right to obtain a free credit report annually, by contacting annualcreditreport.com. Order your report and look it over carefully for: accounts you did not open; inquiries from creditors that you did not initiate; and personal information, such as a home address or Social Security number that is not accurate.

• If you see something you do not understand or recognize, call the consumer reporting agency at the number on the report.

UBS Financial Services Inc., its affiliates, and its employees are not in the business of providing tax or legal advice. Clients should seek advice based on their particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. Alan Cohen, CFP, is senior vice president of wealth management and senior portfolio manager and wealth advisor with UBS Financial Services, Inc. For more information, call him at 212-626-8866.

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