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20 Steps To Protect Your Identity
Identity theft. We’ve all heard of it, but do we really understand how serious and prevalent it actually is? Believe it or not, identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the US, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. As a matter of fact, almost $50 billion dollars was stolen via identity theft in 2006 alone. Its not just money that is lost when identity theft is perpetrated, however, it’s time as well. The mean resolution time is at an all time high. It takes approximately 40 hours per victim to resolve the crime itself, but over 600 hours getting his or her finances straight, according the Identity Theft Resource Center.
This crime seems very far away and anonymous, but, although the majority of identity theft perpetrators are strangers, over 30% are acquainted with the victim. Here are the numbers; 13% of perpetrators are employees of victims, 11% are the victim’s relatives, 10% are friends or roommates, 5% are co-workers, 4% are former spouses or significant others, and 2% are caregivers of the elderly or disabled. These figures really bring home the seriousness and inevitability of this insidious crime.
The statistics tell the story, and the story is a frightening one – but what can you do to protect yourself from this growing crime? The following are 20 of the best methods to combat identity theft:
1. Get a shredder: There are many models and types available at great values. They should be used to destroy all-important papers, but most particularly, pre- approved credit applications received in the mail. Credit card receipts should also be shredded every month.
2. Watch for “Dumpster Divers:” Shredding can also help in this area, but always be careful to think about what you’re discarding, and how it might be used to steal your identity.
3. Avoid “Shoulder Surfers:” Be wary of anyone getting too close at the ATM machine or when using phone cards. They could take your pin number and access your accounts.
4. Don’t Have Checks Delivered to Your Home: Always have checks sent directly to your bank and pick them up from there.
5. Don’t Send Checks from Home: Send them through the post office, or drop them in a US mailbox for maximum security.
6. Cancel Unused Credit Cards: Destroy and discard any credit cards you haven’t used in 6 months or more.
7. Don’t “Pass” on Passwords: Add passwords to all accounts and never use your mother’s maiden name. Make up a new word to use that doesn’t relate to you personally in any way.
8. A P.O. is the Way to Go: A post office box or locked mailbox is the most secure way to receive sensitive mail.
9. Do Business With Companies that Shred Too: Make sure all the doctors’ offices, financial institution and other vendors that you do business with also destroy your confidential information.
10. Only Carry What You Need: Don’t keep extra credit cards or social security numbers in your wallet. Memorize what you need to know and keep actual cards or documents to a minimum.
11. Don’t Give Out Personal Information Over the Phone: When someone you don’t know calls you, never give out any personal information.
12. Keep Your Social Security Number Under Wraps: Don’t include your social security number on checks or credit card receipts. It’s not necessary and it can be a very risky practice.
13. Don’t Give Up Your “Digits:” Putting your telephone number on your checks is never a good idea and can be used to gather your personal information.
14. A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Dollars, (or more): Try to order credit cards and business cards with your own picture on them for extra security.
15. Don’t Put Your Credit Card Number Online: Unless you are making transactions on a secure, encrypted site, don’t put your credit card number online.
16. Leave Your Address At Home: Any time you make a credit card purchase, do not put your address, phone number or driver’s license number on your statement.
17. Monitor Your Monthly Statements: Carefully review your monthly bank and credit card statements for any transactions you don’t recognize.
18. Review Your Credit Report: Order this information at least twice a year from the credit bureau and look for anything that seems incorrect or fraudulent.
19. Fix it Fast: Immediately correct any mistakes on your credit report via written response, with a request for return receipt.
20. Get on the Do Not Call List: Make sure your name is taken off any promotional lists and call the 3 credit reporting agency phone numbers to opt out of pre-approved credit card offers.
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