Identity Theft Safety Tips

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Identity thieves break into your data rather than your home.

In today's world, identity theft is a serious issue. If your personal data is stolen or compromised, criminals can wreak havoc with your credit scores, ratings and financial life, sometimes even before you are aware it has happened. Taking some preventative steps to guard your personal information can go a long way in securing peace of mind against identity theft.

  1. Passwords

    • Create strong passwords for your accounts, both online and offline. Many credit card companies ask for your mother's maiden name as a telephone security password. Instead of using this name, which can be easily discovered by unscrupulous persons, choose an easy to remember but less-obvious password. When choosing online passwords, avoid using numbers such as birth dates and anniversaries, as well as phone numbers, addresses or your children or pets' names. Instead, create combinations of letters and numbers, preferably words not found in the dictionary, that will not be easily guessed. If you must write your password down, keep it somewhere safe.

    Online Safety

    • When using online banking or shopping, be careful of the information you provide. Verify the legitimacy of the site before inputting valuable personal information. Never respond to spam emails; most banks and credit card companies have policies against requesting personal information through emails. Ask your financial providers for their current email and information gathering policies if you have any doubts about a website or suspicious email.

    Destroy Old Documents

    • Pretend you're a spy in a hostile country and need to destroy evidence: shred everything. Don't throw statements and other financial documents away if they contain sensitive personal information without first shredding or tearing them up. Pre-approved credit card applications and similar junk mail should be treated in the same way.

    Regular Checkups

    • Verify that your financial life is in order by regularly checking on your accounts. Keep your receipts and check them against your credit card and bank statements every month to see if there are discrepancies. Even a small unauthorized charge can be a red flag that someone is attempting identity theft. Another important step is to get regular credit reports. By law, you can receive a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year; if you require more frequent reports, you'll need to pay a small fee.

    If You Become a Victim

    • If you feel you are a victim of identity theft, contact the fraud departments at your credit card companies, bank and any other creditors or financial institutions as well as the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Notify your local police department as well, as in some cases, you may need a police report as proof of the occurrence of a crime.

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References

  • Photo Credit ICHIRO/Stockbyte/Getty Images

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