Identity Theft Prevention
The most common targets of identity theft are:
- Social Security Number
- Credit card numbers
However, other personal information, such as bank account numbers, address and phone numbers can also be used to enhance the fraud. It is vital that you protect your personal information from potential identity thieves. There are services available that will monitor your personal information, credit score, and has many other added features.
Protecting your information from identity theft
It is important to realize that it may be impossible to completely prevent identity theft. But it is possible to limit your exposure and reduce the chances that you will be a victim. Here are some tips for protecting your personal information:
Be stingy with your personal information: Do not ever give out personal information in response to an email request. Most reputable companies will not ask for "verification" via email. When giving out personal information over the phone or through the mail, be very careful. Do not give it out in response to others' calling you. Make sure that you are working with a valid and reputable company, and find out what the information will be used for.
Only carry cards you need with you: Do not carry all of your credit cards or identification cards with you all the time. Only take those (your driver's license and your debit card or a credit card) with you. That way, if your wallet or purse is stolen, the damage that can be done is limited. Also, keep a list – in a secure location at home – of what cards you carry with you. That way if they are lost or stolen, you know exactly which cards are compromised. You should never carry your Social Security Card with you. Memorize the number.
Keep PINs and passwords safe at home: Memorize important PINs and passwords so that you do not have to carry them around with you. Also, choose passwords and PINs that are fairly unconnected with you. Birthdates, maiden names and children's or pets' names are poor choices.
Do not lend your cards out: This is very, very important. If you lend out your card, you are responsible for the charges and what follows. At least if your card is stolen, you have legal recourse.
Shred documents that contain personal information: Identity thieves routinely go through trashcans in order to obtain personal information. Before you throw out anything with personal information on it, shred it. Investing $30 to $150 in a good shredder is well worth it. Make sure you shred credit card offers and other correspondence so that thieves cannot fill them out as though they are you.
Activate new credit cards as soon as you get them: Do not wait. Call to activate immediately, and cut up your old cards so that they cannot be used to obtain your credit card number.
Avoid putting bills in your mailbox: When you pay a bill with a check, your account number and bank's routing number appears on that piece of paper. Additionally, you credit card account number or some other account number is on the payment stub. Many identity thieves will take mail out of the box before it is gathered by the postal service. Instead, take envelopes with bill payments directly to the post office, rather than leaving them out.
Do not write account numbers on the outside of envelopes: Make sure that all such numbers are carefully hidden in the envelope. If the envelope is not a security envelope, you can wrap your check or payment stub in another piece of paper to prevent identity thieves from learning your information by holding the envelope up to the light.
Keep good records of your dealings: Make sure that you balance your account statements every month. This means that you need to keep track of credit card purchases you make, as well as debit card purchases from your checking account. Personal finance computer software can actually help you with this. Every month, compare your statement with your records. Report irregularities immediately.
Check your credit report regularly: One of the red flags that you are a victim of identity theft is if there is a loan or credit account on your report that you did not open. Check your report every three to four months to catch inaccuracies and possibly fraudulent accounts.
If you are vigilant in protecting your personal information and verifying your financial transactions, you can reduce the chances that you will be a victim of identity theft.
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