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Avoiding Identity Theft

Sep 4, 2008
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Over 27 million cases are now filed each year, a number that increases by 500,000 - 900,000 each year. Identity theft includes a number of different crimes with a wide range of devastating effects. These include unauthorized access to a person's finances, illegally accessing and using credit card accounts, creating new credit card or utilities accounts in the victim's name, or impersonating the victim for a number of other purposes. Identity theft can cause a massive accumulation of debt that takes years to recover from. On average, it takes about a year for a victim to even realize he or she is a victim of identity theft, and by then the damage and losses could be very severe. Money, time, and emotional investments will be needed to recover from this type of loss, costing hundreds of dollars and hours just to get one's name back in good standing.

Although no one is 100% safe from identity theft, it is possible to put up a number of barriers to make it less likely you'll be a victim.

The first and easiest precaution one can take is to become familiar with your credit report. A credit report provide a listing of inquiries made that relate to your credit history, as well as a list of all accounts that have been opened under your name. Reviewing this report yearly, or even quarterly, is a good practice to start. Three major credit reporting agencies include Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.

Another easy precaution one can take is to simply be aware of opportunities for your information to be stolen. Don't leave your purse, wallet, credit cards, billing statements or the like in places where others can get to them. Always protect your credit card information, passwords, and PINs. Never give your credit card number or Social Security number over the phone, never tell anyone your passwords or PINs, or carry them with you, and make sure those passwords are not just simple words. A mix of upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numbers makes an excellent password. When using an ATM machine, simply cover the keypad when typing your PIN to avoid unwanted glances. If a long vacation is in the future, have the post office hold your mail, and always use the post office when mailing important financial information. Thieves have access to almost anyone's mailbox, making this an unsafe place for that type of information.

Be aware that your personal information is stored at a number of different locations that you may not even realize, such as the dentist, doctor, or school offices. Ask how these places protect personal information, and ask them to shred any documents that they dispose of. Be sure to do the same with documents at home as well. All the unwanted credit card applications received in the mail, credit card receipts, any document with any financial information on it, should all be shredded when discarded. Not taking this precaution is an invitation for dumpster divers to open a credit card in your name, or to steal other important information.

Another easy step one can take is to know when to expect your bills. If a bill is late, or doesn't come at all, call the company it should have come from immediately to see what happened. It's possible the bill was intercepted or that your billing address was changed. If that is the case, you could soon be accumulating a large number of new charges without any knowledge of it.

With technology becoming such a large part of our society, and more and more purchases and banking being conducted online, it is important to realize that technology does not beat everything. Telephone calls, web pages, messaging services, and even computers themselves can all be intercepted, overheard or hacked. Never give out personal information this way unless you know for sure the site can be trusted. Many times, secure sites will have an https:// URL, or a lock symbol. A firewall program to protect your computer from outside invasion is also a good investment. If using a laptop computer, never store financial information on the computer, and always use a strong password. If a thief manages to take the computer, he or she will have all the time necessary to break in and retrieve whatever information you have stored there. When disposing of a computer, simply deleting information is not good enough. Information can sometimes be recovered even after it is "deleted." Certain "wipe" programs are available in order to effectively make files irrecoverable.

If all of these precautions are not enough, there are also professional credit monitoring services. These companies regularly notify you of your credit status, and make note of anything out of the ordinary.

Although this information may seem like a lot to keep track of, the common theme amongst it all is to simply be aware and knowledgeable. Make a list of all your credit card numbers, bank account numbers, driver's license numbers, and keep them updated and in a safe place. If identity theft does become an issue, you will hopefully be able to recognize it straightaway, and you will have a starting place to begin your recovery.
About the Author
Try a secure bank in Minnesota that provides personal and business banking solutions, including checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, and certificates of deposit.
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