Q What can I do to protect myself against identity theft?
A First, don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it at home with your other important papers.
Second, avoid giving out your Social Security number. While many banks, schools, doctors, landlords and others will request your number, it is your decision whether to provide it. Ask if there is some other way to identify you in their records.
To report identity theft, fraud or misuse of your Social Security number, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, recommends you:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the following companies (the company you contact is required to contact the other two, which will place alerts on your reports):
Trans Union, 1-800-680-7289; or
2. Review your credit report for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you did not open and debts on your accounts you cannot explain;
3. Close any accounts you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently;
4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place;
5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338 (TTY 1-866-653-4261).
Q It's hurricane season. If there is a big storm in my area, will I still be able to do business with Social Security?
A During an emergency, keep in mind two things. First, you can conduct most of your business with Social Security online at www.socialsecurity.gov. There, you'll find a wealth of information and online services.
For example, you can apply online for Social Security benefits or for Medicare, and then you can check on the status of your pending application.
If you're already receiving Social Security benefits, you can go online to change your address, phone number, or your direct deposit information, get a replacement Medicare card or request a proof of income letter. You even can get your Social Security statement online. You also can find out if your local office is open by going online to www.socialsecurity.gov/emergency. That site lists any office closings and delays.
Second, make sure you receive your benefits through Direct Deposit. While the mail can be disrupted during severe weather, Direct Deposit payments arrive in your account on time, all the time. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov/deposit to sign up or for more information.
Submit questions to local Social Security Director Gregory Holmes by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at email@example.com.