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July 16, 2009

A better than usual article about preventing identity theft

This article provides some new stats about identity theft:

"Over 27 million Americans have been victims of the fastest-growing crime of identity theft. There is little risk to the thief of being caught; Some people may not notice the theft for months, if not years.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. Many people assume they are safe because they do not shop online or use the internet for banking and paying bills. However, online theft of personal information accounts for only 11.6% of all identity theft cases.

The majority of identity theft occurs offline—resulting from information taken from your mailbox, your wallet, your telephone, or your home. The top three types of identity theft are credit card, phone / utility, and bank fraud. Alarmingly, studies also show that half of all identity thefts are committed by someone the victim knows.

The first step in preventing the theft of your identity is to understand how thieves get your information in the first place. By securing four potential access points, you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.

1) Your Mailbox

A thief can easily steal your mail from curbside mailboxes or communal mail piles. They can use the personal information found on credit card and bank statements to access your accounts. They can even file a change of address form in your name to divert mail and gather your information at a different address altogether.

Keep a close eye on your incoming and outgoing mail. Know what time your mail comes and try to pick it up as soon as possible. If you notice that you stop receiving mail, immediately contact your post office. Never put outgoing mail, especially bill payments, in a curbside mailbox. Instead, use the Postal Service mailboxes or your local post office. Consider purchasing a locked mailbox. When you are out of town, have the post office hold your mail for you. If you order new checks from your bank, pick them up in person instead of having them mailed to your home. Remember that anyone can stop and take things from your mailbox at any time.

Know when your bills and bank statements usually arrive in the mail. If you pay your bills online, consider paperless billing. When you notice that something is late, call to find out why. By not knowing what bills are coming and when, you risk both late fees and identity theft.
You can also contact the Direct Marketing Association to have your name taken off direct mail lists. This stops pre-approved credit card offers from being mailed to you. Write them at:

Direct Marketing AssociationMail Preference ServicePO Box 643Carmel, NY 10512

2) Your Home

During a burglary of your home, thieves aren’t just looking for electronics and jewelry. They often take important documents such as birth certificates, passports, copies of tax returns, and account statements. When they leave, the financial loss to your family is just beginning.
In many cases, a thief doesn’t even have to break into your home. Your trash may contain canceled checks, credit card and bank statements, receipts, and pre-approved offers of credit.

There are three things that every household should own: a paper shredder, a safety deposit box, and a safe or lock box. Use the shredder to destroy every financial or personal document that you throw away. Having a safe deposit box not only protects your finances from a thief but also a fire or natural disaster. You should keep your birth certificates, passports, tax documents, copies of documents that you carry in your wallet, credit cards you do not use, and other financial records in a safe deposit box. For documents that you must keep in your home, consider using a lock box or safe in a hidden location.

Remember that your computer is easy to take from your home and can contain plenty of financial information. Clear out your internet history on a regular basis. Don’t keep a list of passwords for accounts on your computer or near it. Don’t write down passwords, memorize them. Make sure that you change your passwords on a regular basis, especially if you use financial programs to download your banking information. If you sell your computer or donate it to charity, make sure that you remove the hard drive and destroy it. Don’t simply erase the information on it. Remove it.

3) Your Personal Information

All it takes is your Social Security number or bank account number. Many identity thieves can simply use information they gather from a local newspaper story or a phone book to start the process of stealing your identity.

Never give out personal information to anyone who calls you, e-mails you, or comes to your home. Many thieves will pretend to be government officials or other legitimate business people who are looking to gather information for various reasons. Use caution. Never give information to anyone who contacts you first. Always double-check by calling the local office or branch of the agency that is trying to gather information from you.

When making phone calls, make sure that you are in a secure location when giving out personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information in order to collect or win a prize. If you are contacted for a donation or purchase something over the telephone, ask that the information be put in writing and mailed to you. That way you can consider it more carefully.

Your Social Security number is something that you should carefully guard. There was a time that it was used to identify you on hospital charts, driver’s licenses, and work and school identifications. Today you should only give it out when absolutely necessary. Thieves have been known to take numbers from medical charts and other documents. Always ask how your information is protected. Never carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it in your safe deposit box.

4) Your Personal Finances

Many people never realize that they have been a victim of identity theft until they try to borrow money and find that their credit report shows negative information. You should closely look over your credit reports from each of the three major national credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian—at least once a year. Make sure that all of the information contained on your credit report is correct. This is often the easiest way to find out if anyone is opening credit accounts using your name.

When it comes to your existing accounts, you should carefully go over each and every statement you receive. Do not simply pay them and shred them. You should be able to account for every purchase on your credit cards and checking accounts.

There isn’t any reason to carry every credit card you own in your wallet. Carry only what is necessary. Make sure that you keep track of your wallet or purse at all times. When shopping, make sure that your credit card account number isn’t printed on receipts.Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for people standing too close to you at the ATM; they may be trying to photograph or record your card number and password with their cell phone. Keep your wallet in your front pocket and hold onto your purse at all times. Don’t keep important personal information in your car or at your place of work.

It isn’t always easy to protect your personal and financial information. By taking the effort now to safeguard your information, you can save yourself thousands of dollars and hours of worry that identity theft victims must expend to clear their good names."

Excellent article found at

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