Heading Off ID Theft

Written by , April 14, 2011

Heading Off ID TheftIdentity theft is something that we all hope will never happen to us. But ID theft has become the crime of choice for many criminals due to the fact that by the time it is discovered, the damage is already done and it can be very difficult to track them down. Despite increased awareness and tougher laws, identity theft isn’t going to disappear any time soon.

No one is completely immune to having their identity stolen. But taking some simple precautions will greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim.

Here is advice on what precautions you should take to prevent ID theft.

  • Keep your Social Security card in a safe place. Never carry it with you unless you know you will need it. Your Social Security number is the key to setting up accounts and borrowing money in your name, and could even be used to obtain identification with your name on it. So keep that card under lock and key.
  • Avoid giving your SSN or any other personal information to anyone you do not trust or who doesn’t need it for a good reason. You have to provide this information to employers, lenders, and landlords, but few others have a legitimate need for it. When in doubt, don’t give it out.
  • Get your mail as quickly as possible after it is delivered. Identity thieves often steal mail in an effort to find personal information or preapproved credit card offers. If you can’t pick up your mail right away, consider getting a post office box.
  • Invest in a crosscut shredder. Use it to destroy preapproved credit card offers and other papers that an identity thief could use. Throwing these things in the trash without shredding them is like asking for trouble.
  • Consider getting your statements and paying your bills online. This reduces the amount of mail containing sensitive information that you’ll get, and it also eliminates the need to send checks through the mail.
  • Be suspicious of any phone call or email from someone claiming to be from a company you do business with and asking for personal information. If it is a legitimate contact, they won’t mind if you contact the business directly with the contact information you already have. Don’t even click on a link in any such email you receive – instead, type the site’s URL into your browser’s address bar.
  • Be wary of ordering things over the phone or online. Only place orders with reputable companies, and if you’re not sure, search for complaints online. Any website you order from should encrypt your information so that it cannot be intercepted. You can spot a secure connection by the “https” in the web address or the icon in your browser’s address or status bar.
  • Check your credit report at least once per year. You can get a free copy from each of the three credit bureaus annually. Check for any incorrect information, and dispute it right away.
  • If you find that you have or may have been the victim of identity theft, take action immediately. Cancel your credit cards. Dispute false information on your credit report, and place a fraud alert on it. Report the crime to the police, and follow up to make sure they’re doing everything they can to solve it.
  • To prevent identity theft, it helps to think like an identity thief. Keep any information that could be used to steal your identity as inaccessible as possible, and watch for signs that something may be amiss. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll never be a victim, doing these things will make it much less likely.

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