Protect Yourself from Identity Theft: Steps to Take

Types of Phishing:
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Phishing Attempt Examples
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The Latest On “Phishing” and Other Online Scams

You may have heard about a form of identity theft known as "phishing." In a phishing scam (see examples of past phishing attempts aimed at Hancock Bank customers), identity thieves send cleverly disguised e-mails, supposedly from legitimate and reputable companies, to mass e-mail address lists of potentially millions of people. The bogus e-mails usually tell recipients that their accounts are in danger of being frozen or suspended.

The three companies have set up a central Web site, toll-free phone number and mailing address through which you can order your annual free report. Visit, call (877) 322-8228 or write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You must mail an Annual Credit Report Request form to this address, which you can obtain at Do not contact the companies individually—they are only providing free reports through one of these methods of contact.

You can order all three reports at the same time or order them separately. The best strategy is to order one report every four months—that way, you can check your credit three times a year, instead of just once a year. Another strategy is to sign up for credit watch services, which for an annual fee will alert you to any activity in your credit file.

Minimize the identification information and the number of credit and ATM cards you carry with you in your wallet or purse. Only carry what you'll actually need.

Make a photocopy of the entire contents of what you do carry in your wallet and keep it in a safe place. This way, you will know exactly what was in your wallet if it is ever lost or stolen. Copy both sides of your driver's license and credit cards so that you have all the information (primarily account numbers and toll-free phone numbers) you need to cancel cards and order replacements. Never give out your Social Security number without first asking what happens if you don't give it. Usually, it's not really required.

Don't use your mother's real maiden name or your real city of birth as identifiers. Make up fake names instead.

Purchase a personal document shredder to shred discarded documents containing any personal information—old bank, credit card or brokerage statements, tax forms, insurance/medical claims, unused "courtesy" or "convenience" checks, etc. For maximum security, choose a crosscut shredder—it's more expensive, but shreds documents more thoroughly.

Hold onto your credit card, debit card and ATM receipts until you can properly dispose of them at home when you no longer need them. Don't just throw them away in a public wastebasket—or worse, just leave them behind in the ATM.

Never let your credit card out of your sight, even at restaurants. Through a process known as "skimming," waiters run your card through a small device called a skimmer that collects and stores the card information, which waiters often sell to thieves for as much as $50 per card.

Pay attention to your billing cycles and follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive as scheduled. Also be sure to review billing statements carefully for any unauthorized credit card use.

Close any credit accounts that you no longer use. This includes all accounts with banks, credit card companies, utilities, Internet service providers, etc.

Do not give out any personal information over the phone, through the mail (including e-mail) or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact with a trusted or known party.

Guard your mailbox from theft. Deposit outgoing mail (especially bill payments) in post office collection boxes or at your local post office—instead of in your mailbox with the flag up—and promptly remove all mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you're planning to be away from home and can't retrieve your mail, ask a neighbor to collect your mail, or better yet, have the postal service hold your mail.

Don't have any checks sent to your mailbox. If it's available, use direct deposit instead, or have checks sent to a secure post office box. And don't have new blank checks sent to an unsecure mailbox—pick them up at your bank instead.

Stop delivery of most junk mail (including pre-approved credit offers) by writing to the Direct Marketing Association, DMA Mail Preference Service, Box 643, Carmel, New York, 10512. Or visit where you can fill out an online form to stop most junk mail for a $5 fee.

You can stop most telemarketing phone calls by registering with the national Do Not Call system. Call 888-382-1222 or visit online.


Abagnale's Top 10 Tips
Frank Abagnale, a respected authority on identity theft and a reformed identity thief who was the subject of the movie Catch Me
If You Can
, offers these 10 tips for protecting yourself from identity theft:

  1. Guard your Social Security number carefully.
  2. Monitor your credit report by obtaining a free copy of your report each year.
  3. Buy and use a crosscut shredder for your old bank and credit card statements and pre-approved credit offers.
  4. Remove your name from direct marketing and telemarketing lists.
  5. Limit what you carry in your wallet to only the cards you absolutely need.
  6. Make a duplicate record of the entire contents of your wallet.
  7. Mail all bill payments from a safe location, not from your home mailbox, where they can easily be stolen.
  8. Monitor your Social Security activity regularly by ordering your Social Security earnings and benefits statement once a year.
  9. Review your credit card statements carefully each month in search of fraudulent charges, and close any card accounts that you don't use.
  10. Never give your credit card or personal information out over the phone unless you initiated the call and trust the business.

When you order personal checks from Hancock Bank, have only your first initial and last name printed on the checks. If your checkbook is stolen, the thief will not know how to sign your full name.

Never have your Social Security number pre-printed on your personal checks. Also, have your work (instead of home) phone number and address printed on your checks, or preferably, a post office box number if you have one.

If you pay your credit card bill by check, write only the last four digits of your account number in the subject line of the check, rather than the entire number. The credit card company knows the other numbers, and you avoid revealing the entire number to anyone who handles your check.

If you live in Louisiana, you can "freeze" access to your credit file, which effectively denies anyone else trying to apply for credit in your name from doing so. Louisiana is one of only 10 states that allow freezing of credit files, for which each credit bureau charges $10, plus another $10 to "thaw" your file if you're applying for credit. Congress is considering a law to allow credit freezes nationwide.

Keep your telephone number unlisted. Your phone number is one of the key pieces of information companies may use to verify your identity.

Ask to receive electronic versions of bills and account statements, instead of paper.