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Keep Identity Thieves At Bay

Oct 22, 2007
We've all heard cautionary tales about identity theft. Why, then, do so many of us assume that it will not happen to us?

It does happen, all too often. Credit card holders are more vulnerable than most; unlike the old days of check fraud and forged signatures, today's identity thieves use credit card details to open up lines of credit and rack up serious debt in their victims' names.

If you have a credit card, there are several steps you can take to safeguard your identity. First, and most importantly, you must stay vigilant. Know where your card is at all times, and be careful about who you entrust it to. Waiters and other servers can easily copy down your credit card details for their own personal use. Remember - to shop online or by phone, one only needs to know the numbers on the card they're using. Sometimes, paying with cash is a good idea.

Card holders should also receive their statements online, if possible. This might sound counter-intuitive, but electronic statements on secure servers are less vulnerable to theft than paper statements that are handled by several people before arriving in your mailbox. Paper statements might also be overlooked and carelessly thrown away as you sort through your mail, leaving them intact and readable for identity thieves who pick through garbage cans for their next victim.

If you still don't feel comfortable going paperless, be sure to destroy all printed records of your credit card statement after you've read them. Some suggest burning, but a good paper shredder will do the trick.

Whether your statement is printed or electronic, check it frequently to make sure that all the charges were actually made by you. Any discrepancies should be reported to your card company immediately. If you're planning to move, let the company know in advance to prevent the next tenant from receiving your credit card statements. You should also alert the company if your card becomes lost or stolen, so that they can prevent charges from being made to your account.

Some credit cards have a small picture of the card holder printed on their surface for identification purposes. This provides a thin layer of additional security. While the photo will stop thieves from using the stolen card for face-to-face transactions, it won't prevent them from financing an online shopping spree. Still, if this feature is offered, you may as well take advantage of it.

Finally, for those who are really serious about preventing identity theft, new card programs, like RevolutionMoney, use a system of virtual PIN numbers. These cards don't have account numbers on them, and no personal information can be discerned by looking at them. They even offer the card holder the option to assign additional, temporary PINs when dealing with merchants they don't know very well.

Identity theft is serious, but preventable. It's not enough to ignore the problem and hope that it doesn't happen to you. A friend used to joke that his best defense against identity theft was his low credit score. But after the modern surge in sub-prime lending made it possible for anyone to finance anything, he's no longer laughing.
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