Be Proactive Against Identity Theft

Hundreds of thousands of people yearly have their identities stolen. It can happen in a variety of ways. Someone steals your wallet or handbag. A person covertly watches your mailbox for preapproved offers of credit. Or they go through your garbage for discarded credit card receipts. They’ll even sift through your doctors’ trash to find discarded personal information that’s already been entered into the computer system.

If it happens to you, the good news is that the world will not end. For a stolen debit or credit card, the most that you’ll be out is $50. But the cost in lost time and peace of mind can be tremendous. Not only that, the hit that your credit will take can also be quite substantial; it could very well take months or even years to clear your record as well as your name. It’s therefore only prudent to take some simple preventative steps to protect yourself as much as possible before it happens.

For example, one thing that you can do is to periodically check your credit report. Identity theft can go unfettered for months simply because the owner has no idea that it’s happening. You can get a free copy of your report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. To protect yourself even further, experts recommend checking it twice yearly.

Another smart move to make would be to have yourself removed from all of those mailing lists. Preapproved credit applications aren’t the kind of documents that you necessary want to leave just lying around, whether it’s in the house or out in your garbage. Most of these pieces of paper come from mailing lists that are generated by the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. You can remove yourself from all of those lists by making a phone call to 1-800-5OPT-OUT.

Clean out your wallet or handbag. Most people carry around far too many documents or slips of paper with identifying information on them. There’s no reason to carry around birth certificates, passports or most importantly your Social Security card if you’re not intending to conduct business with them. Even credit cards that you don’t use should be stored away; if they haven’t been used in some time, you should consider closing those accounts anyway. Your Social Security number is vital for anyone who’s out to steal your identity; with it they can apply for credit or loans in your name. There are only a few valid occasions for you to give it out: when applying for a job, doing your taxes, or if you’re involved in some other financial transaction. In the majority of other cases your number is requested for the purpose of identification; ask if another identifying number can be substituted.

If you use ATMs or the internet regularly, make sure that you choose smart passwords. Even if your ATM card is lost or stolen, a thief likely can’t use it unless you’ve chosen an obvious password. Stay away from names or partial names, dates of birth, phone numbers, and the last four digits of your Social Security number. Instead, pick something which you can remember easily but a thief wouldn’t have a clue about. A combination of letters and numbers is best.

If the unthinkable does happen and your identity is stolen, act quickly. Report it immediately to the three credit bureaus, and ask to have a victim’s statement included in your file so that any further applications for credit will have to be verified by you. Also, notify the police and get a copy of their report so that you can show it to any credit card companies that may ask for it. And if there has been any activity on your accounts that you did not initiate, cancel all of them immediately and get new cards and account numbers.

Being proactive concerning your sensitive information makes it much more likely that you’ll never have to experience the trauma and inconvenience of identity theft.

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