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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

Identity theft is on the rise and it may be difficult to avoid being a victim in some circumstances. Identity theft can take months to years to clear up. There are many nightmare stories, as it appears everyone knows someone that has been impacted by this crime.

There are steps that you can take to lessen the chance that you will fall victim to criminals wanting to use your good name to initiate credit, purchase items, and empty your bank account. The following information can be reviewed at PrivacyRights.org, a non profit consumer information and advocacy organization.

  • Reduce the number of credit and debit cards you carry with you. Although the use of debit cards is not recommended, if you do use these cards, use your online banking to monitor charges posted to your account.

  • When using credit or debit cards at stores and restaurants, pay attention to the clerk swiping the card. Dishonest employees have been known to use small hand held devices, called skimmers, to quickly swipe the card and later download the account number onto a personal computer. This data can be used for online shopping or the creation of counterfeit credit cards.

  • Do not use credit cards when online shopping. Credit cards offer better protection in the case of fraud.

  • Keep a list or photocopy of all of your credit cards, bank accounts, investments. Include the numbers, expiration dates, customer service numbers, and fraud departments. This will provide easy access if you fall victim to theft.

  • Never provide your credit card, social security number, account information to anyone over the phone unless you have initiated the call.

  • Check your credit report at least once a year to insure the results are accurate. Federal law provides that you have free access to the three credit bureaus at least once per year. You can stagger your requests through out the year to maintain knowledge of what is in your report. You can obtain your credit report from here http://www.annualcreditreport.com/

  • Beginning in November 2007, you will be able to "freeze" your credit report. You can prevent credit issuers from accessing your report unless they have your permission. As an aside, this may also help stop junk mail from mortgage brokers looking to cold call potential clients. At this time, many congressmen are deciding what measures need to be taken in terms of citizens' privacy. Consumer's Union has prepared a letter which you can send to your representatives so that they can hear your voice.

  • Do not print your driver's license or social security number on your checks.

  • Install a firewall on your computer.

  • When disposing of your computer, either erase the hard drive completely, or use a "strong wipe" utility program to remove all personal data.

  • Never respond to or click on links in "phishing" emails.

  • Install and update antivirus software that can prevent trojans or worms from sending out vital information to other computers.

  • File sharing and swapping exposes your computer to hackers Don't do it.

I hope these ideas will assist you in protecting your identity. We are in the holiday season, it is important to remember to protect your identity and finances while out shopping for your loved ones.

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