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Spring Cleaning for Scam-Proofing

Spring cleaning shouldn’t end with a yard sale or Goodwill drop-off. Here are some seasonally appropriate sprucing tips to reduce your risk of identity theft and other fraud.

Wallet. Clean it of what you shouldn’t be carrying. These include your Social Security card (unless you’re heading to an SSA office), cheat sheets with PINs or passwords for bank cards or online accounts, spare keys for your home or car, and blank checks. Unless you’re heading to a doctor or health facility for the first time, don’t carry your Medicare card – with or without it, you’ll get emergency medical care. If you feel you must carry it, make a photocopy and remove or block out several digits of your SSN.

Home office. Maybe your office is the kitchen table and a box from the garage, but every home should have a cross-cut shredder. Put it to good use: After ensuring all is correct, immediately shred bank statements, sales and cash withdrawal ATM receipts, paid credit card statements and utility bills, expired warranties, unsolicited credit card and insurance offers, and canceled checks that are not tax related. Unless keeping for yuks, destroy old photo IDs. Pay stubs and undisturbed medical bills shouldn’t be kept longer than one year; tax returns and pertinent forms (W-2s, 1099s and records for declared tax deductions) no longer than seven.

Safely store, preferably in a bank safe deposit box or home-based lockable cabinet or carry box: birth and marriage certificates, family member death certificates, Social Security and Medicare cards, active passports (even if you don’t travel), divorce decrees, college diplomas and military records, wills and trusts, home deeds and vehicle titles, and power of attorney paperwork.

Keep secure but easily accessible: tax returns for the past three years, active appliance warranties and manuals, loan statements and payment books, insurance policies, a household inventory list (TVs, jewelry, etc.), health benefits information, and family health records including vaccinations. On your home printer, line up every card you keep in your wallet — driver’s license, credit and debit cards, insurance cards – and make a copy of the front and back of this plastic lineup, securely storing these pages in this “accessible” file (useful if your wallet is lost or stolen.)

Medicine cabinet. Remove and shred pharmacy labels before tossing empty prescription bottles. Hide prescription medications (particularly painkillers) when you expect home cleaners, health care workers, utility and contractor service calls or other visitors, or if your home is up for sale.

Computers and phones. Delete unnecessary and unused files, accounts and apps. Back up and store important documents, photos and files — including just-filed tax returns — on a separate flash drive, compact disc or external hard drive, or a secure Cloud service. If donating or recycling old computers, smartphones or other devices, wipe the memory completely and restore to factory settings.

Ensure that antivirus protection software is up to date on all actively used devices, set for regular “Quick” and “Full” scans and firewall-enabled. Clear the memory on internet browsers used on your computer and smartphone – now and at least weekly, to prevent hackers from accessing stored passwords. Enable two-factor authentication on financial and other online accounts; review (and enact) privacy settings on social media accounts and don’t overshare sensitive details – address, workplace, family members or upcoming vacation plans or purchases. Consider getting paperless statements from banks and credit card companies to reduce the risk that sensitive personal identifying information could be stolen from your mail.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: AG-ChapelHill/iStock

Also of Interest

  • Fraud speak — Learn the lingo to beat scammers
  • FTC: Impostor scams surpass ID theft
  • Get help: Find out if you’re eligible for public benefits with Benefits QuickLINK
  • Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being

See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.

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