Avoiding Identity Theft

In a perfect world people would never have to worry about someone rummaging through their garbage, stealing their mail, or hacking into their computers. Unfortunately the world today is anything but perfect. So how do you make sure you take all the proper precautions to guard yourself from thieves lurking everywhere just waiting to prey on innocent and naive people? Read the following article and you will be headed towards a more secure, safe guarded future.

The biggest rule is when in doubt; DON’T throw it out. Any amount of personal information can aid a person looking for an identity to steal. Shredding is the best option when it comes to anything with your name and addresses that offers you any line of credit; or receipts that have your credit card information on them. Yes, this even includes things such as magazine subscription offers, book club offers, or pre-approved credit card offers. You might not see someone getting magazines in your name as a big deal but what if they ultimately decide to not pay? Bingo, it’s on your credit now as a debt owed! These types of small things may not seem critical to you, but you would be surprised with the amount of effort it takes to get them off your credit. Most people assume if there is something wrong on their credit you can simply call them up, report it, and it magically disappears. This is not the case in most people’s experiences. I speak from personal experience here too. My husband and I tried to open a new bank account one day several years ago and discovered someone used his name and address to open an account at another bank. We were denied our new bank account, looked and regarded as if we were the criminals, and it took an entire year to clear the situation up!

Tired of getting all those pre-approved offers? Lets face it, with the quantity of personal mail the average person receives you could spend forever shredding and discarding those papers. To effectively avoid these situations look at the back of the paper on the next pre-approval offer you receive for the discontinue number. The law provides you with this service free of charge and it is required to be printed on the paper. It will say something such as “To avoid pre-approval notices in the future please call this number to add yourself to the opt-out list.” It is essentially an unsubscribe list, such as on the Internet. You will not receive anymore unsolicited pre-approvals. This benefits you not only from getting massive amounts of paper cuts and/or tennis elbow (if you are unfortunate enough to have a manual shredder) but its one less thing you have to worry about being stolen from your mail. After all, the credit card company doesn’t care either; they just want to make money. An example of this is when one man ripped up the credit card application that came in his name, tapped it back together, changed the address and phone number on it while leaving his name the same, and they still approved it. In the end with the outstanding debt of the average American, you don’t really need the card anyway so it’s best just to forgo the temptation for yourself and anyone else out there.

Be aware of your credit report and modifications to it. Every individual in every state is now entitled to receive one free credit report from each credit reporting company per year. Don’t be silly and obtain them all at the same time, space them out by four months and you will be covered all year long. To receive your free credit report you must go to www.annualcreditreport.com, and consistently request that only the last 4 digits of your social security number appear on the report. You can also receive a free credit report anytime you are denied credit after applying; simply read the denial letter and write them within the specified time and request your credit report (note that you are generally required to provide a copy of the denial and sometimes additional information).

Don’t keep your personal information such as your social security card or birth certificate in your purse or wallet. If it is it stolen or lost you will have enough to worry about canceling all your cards and confirming your information isn’t abused by someone. By making these things easily accessible you are making yourself an easier target. Memorize your social security number for ease, and question if you need to bring it if a circumstance arises where you think you might need it. Keep them in a lock box with all your other important financial information. Most department stores sell many safes at competitive prices. They even have ones that are fire and water proof incase of a fire or flood, which only adds to your security and eliminates the hassle of trying to get new ones in case of a disaster.

Be smart on the Internet. Getting a security program such as McAfee is genuinely worth the money paid for it. Make sure you obtain a program that includes a firewall and utilize it. Many programs come with a package of useful items such as a firewall, virus scan, Spam blocker, and more. Browse the security sections of the sites that require your personal information (i.e. your bank website, eBay, Paypal, etc.) for advice on how to tell them apart from fake websites posing as them. For example, Paypal will tell you that if you receive an email from them it will always address you by your name listed on your account, not simply dear Paypal user. Any email you receive from a website that doesn’t follow their procedure is probably a fake and you should contact them immediately to report it. Under NO circumstance should you enter your personal information on a site unless you type their website address into the address bar yourself and are certain it is accurate (that means don’t click on any links you receive via email either). Some viruses can attack your computer just by opening an email or downloading something. If you don’t know who it’s from don’t even open it, and never download anything from an unknown website or email address. Always make sure you look for the veriSign icon on a page that requests personal information and click on it to verify that their certificates are up to date and their information is valid.

Don’t keep your personal information stored on your computer. It is getting increasingly easier for hackers to access your information as technology advances. Keep your passwords safeguarded (your best bet is to simply memorize them instead of writing them down), and don’t use the remember my name and password button. Typing your information in is worth the added security. Don’t use all the same passwords for your accounts either, if someone gets a hold of one existing password they will have easy access to all your accounts this way. Also, don’t make your password easy to predict. Do you know how many people reading this right now have a password that is simply password, their name, or their child’s birth date? You don’t have to go crazy and have 700 numbers and letters, just make it something that combines things you can retain. If its dates you’re good with use something like the month of your child’s birth date, the day of your wedding date, and the year of your birth date. That requires someone to know a lot more information about you, and most likely if they know that much already you are not being safe anyway or they are close enough that they should be easy to identify.

If you should find yourself a victim of fraudulent activity always alert one of the credit reporting agencies and file a report and a fraud alert, you only need to contact one since they are required to alert the other companies themselves. This will require the creditor to contact you anytime a new account is opened or a current one is changed, it also entitles you to free credit reports. Make sure you close the account that is fraudulent, file a police report, and obtain duplicate copies since you may be required to have them later. Finally file a report with the FTC and ask for supplemental resources if needed.

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