Imagine waking up to an empty bank account or discovering some crook has opened up a credit account without your authorization. These represent just two of the many possible outcomes of identity theft. Take precautions now to stave off a possible hijacking of your personal information.
Protect Your Personal Information
Keeping your identity safe begins with protecting your personal information. Personal information including your mother's maiden name, your date of birth and your financial account numbers all need protection from identity thieves. Keep your personal information safe by shredding financial documents before discarding them. Place your Social Security card and other important documents, such as bank account documents, mortgage deeds and tax returns in a home safe or store them in a safe-deposit box at a local bank. Never provide personally identifiable information over the phone, via email or through the mail to any individual or corporation you cannot identify as someone you currently do business with. When conducting business online refrain from using obvious passwords, such as date of birth, and keep your anti-virus software up to date.
Observe Your Finances Closely
Keep an eye out for signs that may indicate a potential problem. Identity thieves can scour garbage cans, raid mail boxes and electronically hack into your accounts if given the opportunity. Verify all bills arrive in your mailbox as expected. Carefully review your credit card and bank statements for fraudulent charges and charges you do not recognize. Report any mistakes or fraudulent charges you discover to your financial institution immediately. Other tip-offs that may indicate a potential identity theft include denials of credit and calls or mailings about a purchase that you did not make.
Interacting online by using public Internet access, including Wi-Fi commonly found at public libraries, puts your personal information at risk. Use public Internet access only after taking important precautions. Refrain from using public Internet access to access financial information or other personal information. Request a free copy of your credit report each year through annualcreditreport.com. Review your credit report for any unusual activity including requests for credit you did not make, unidentifiable debts and incorrect information. Call one of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax or TransUnion, and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report if you notice anything suspicious. The three major credit bureaus share responsibility in protecting consumers, so a call to one of them will set forth a fraud alert across all agencies.
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