In these economic times, things are hard enough without someone else screwing up your credit. This series of articles will cover the simple things you can do to make sure you and your family are protected from potential identity theft, or even human errors that could negatively affect your credit.

Note: from what I know and have seen, the best way to really protect your identity is to use a Identity Theft Protection service such as LifeLock or Debix. I haven’t used either, but Debix is very reasonably priced and claims to be the best. They also employ some methods that others don’t.

This first article is a step-by-step guide to remove yourself from mail and phone lists that can potentially lead to someone stealing your identity. This protects you, but it also eliminates junk mail and phone solicitations. Who likes those anyway?

Step 1: Be Smart

The first thing you need to do is be smart about your personal information.

NEVER, EVER:

A. Click links in an email to visit a website that you will give personal or financial information to. For example, if you get an email from your bank and it says to login to your online banking by clicking this link: YourBank.com, don’t do that! Open a new window/tab and type “yourbank.com” into the address line, then login. If you click the above link to “YourBank.com” you’ll see that it does not take you to YourBank.com, but to Wells Fargo Bank’s Online Identity Fraud Safety Quiz instead. An email can do the same thing. The link may say one thing, but will take you to a website that looks like the one you wanted to visit, but is actually sending your information to bad people. This is called Phishing (said like “fishing”) and is a major way that scammers and identity thieves get your information.

B. Give your Social Security number, bank account number, Credit Card number, or other important personal information over the phone, unless you are sure that it is your bank or a merchant you trust. If they called you, you need to be very careful. If you called them, you’re much more sure. But make sure it wasn’t a number they recently gave you over the phone.

ALWAYS

C. Shred bank statements and other paperwork that contains any of the following numbers: Social Security, Bank Account, Credit Card, Debit Card, Driver’s License, and any others that might seem sensitive.

D. Be sure who you know who you are giving your information to, no matter where you are, or when.

Step 2: Remove yourself from mailing lists

Removing yourself from mailing lists will cut down on your personal information and pre-approved credit offers from being sent to you through the mail. Studies have shown that discarded or intercepted mail is a prime source for Identity Thieves.

A. Use this link to go to: DMAchoice.org (the link will open in a new tab/window).

B. Enter your name in the spaces provided. If you use variations on your name or recently changed names (maybe you got married in the last year or two), click the link that says “+Add another version of your name” and type in the alternate versions. Repeat if you think there are more than two.

C. Type in your address, and be sure to add other recent addresses in the same way you added variations on your name.

D. Enter your email twice as instructed and a password for login. Then enter the security code in the last field. Now click the “Submit” button.

E. Now you’ll need to go to your email to activate your account. So open the email you entered, open the email from “Activate your new DMAchoice account”, and click the link that says “activate your new account”.

F. A new page will open informing you that you have activated your account. Click the link on that page to login, then login using your email & password.

G. Now you’re presented with 4 areas. You’ll need to click the “Go” button on each. But we’ll do the credit one first since it’s different from the other 3.

CREDIT OFFERS

H. So click “Go” under Credit Offers. It will take you to a new page. Here, obviously, just click the link “manage credit offers now”. This will pop-up a new little window with OptOutPrescreen.com in it. This is the Credit Bureaus’ web site where you can opt-out of pre-approved credit offers (a main source of Identity Theft).

I. Just scroll down the page to the button “Click Here to Opt-In or Opt-Out”. Scroll down, and click on the little circle to select “Electronic Opt-Out for Five Years:” then the submit button just below that. (Note: You can opt-out permanently if your want to submit the form manually by mail).

J. Now you just fill out the form with your name, address, phone number, social security, etc. Don’t worry this is legitimate. They’re not going to share any of it, in fact they’re preventing companies from sharing or using it. Once you’re done, click the “Confirm” button. You’ll see the confirmation screen saying you’re now opted-out for 5 years. Close that window to go back to the DMAchoice website.

OTHER MAIL OFFERS

K. Back on the DMAchoice website, click the “Catalogs” link in the top left.

L. Now scroll down on this new page and click the “Remove My Name” button. A little window will appear over the whole web site asking if you really want to remove yourself from all offers? Click the “Yes, Take Me Off” button. It will now ask which addresses to apply this to. Make sure all of them have a check mark by them and click “Submit”.

M. Now click the “Magazine Offers” link in the top left, and repeat step L. Then do it again for the “Other Mail Offers”. Wow, if you’re like me, that felt great. Now lets hope it cuts down on that junk! At least we know stuff in our name shouldn’t come starting soon.

Wow! Didn’t that feel good! Now I recommend going to your online banking and setting it so all your statements are received online. Having your bank statements printed and sent to you in the mail is a major security risk.

Step 3: Remove yourself from phone solicitation lists

Phone solicitations can get you singed up for stuff you never really wanted. Worse is that sometimes people pretend to be your bank or a solicitor so that they can get your personal information to steal your money or identity. Removing yourself from phone solicitation lists makes it so if you receive a solicitation call, you can assume its not legitimate, ask that they add you to their do not call list, and not answer any questions they may ask.

A. Click this link to go to The National Do Not Call Registry website.

B. Enter up to 3 phone numbers in the spaces provided.

C. Enter your email address and click “Submit”.

D. Make sure the information is correct and click “Register”.

E. Now go to your email. You should receive 1-3 emails, depending on how many phone numbers you entered. You need to open each one and click the link inside it. This will confirm your registration and add that phone number to the Do Not Call Registry.

F. Repeat this process if needed, to add additional phone numbers.

Now you should congratulate yourself on making some big steps that will significantly decrease your chances of being the victim of Identity Theft/Fraud, scams, and even human error. The Wells Fargo Bank’s Online Identity Fraud Safety Quiz that I mentioned before is actually a very good one to find out if you are being safe with your personal information. It is quick and easy to take and gives feedback to each set of questions as you go. (Oh, don’t worry, it doesn’t ask for any personal information, so you can use the link)