Tips for Reducing the Risk of Identity Theft

Identity Theft is an increasing problem, which affects millions of people each year. In many cases, unless the person regularly checks their credit report, it could be years before they discover they have been the victim of identity theft. Protecting yourself against identity theft is very important, because even though many times the debt will be forgiven, it can take a long time to clear up and remove fraudulent purchases from your credit history.

Here are some basic steps for reducing the risk that you will be the victim of identity theft.

  • Try to avoid carrying around important documents and reduce the amount of information in your wallet or purse. For example, there is almost never a reason to carry around your social security card on a daily basis.
  • When you use the ATM or enter your Pin Number at a store, pay attention to anyone that may be looking over your shoulder. This is called shoulder surfing and is a popular way of stealing pin numbers. Cameras are also often used, so try to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to see your pin.
  • When traveling, consider using travelers checks, instead of your personal check book. This way, if your wallet is stolen, they will not be able to access your personal accounts. This is especially important, as it could be several weeks before you go home and discover your bank account was compromised.
  • In addition to keeping an updated list of contact information for all of your banks and credit companies, also document all of your credit cards. Regularly check to make certain you still have all of your cards in your wallet or purse.
  • Remember that often times identity theft starts at home, perhaps from a dishonest service man or even a relative, so be careful to keep your person information safely put away, even in your own home.
  • Consider removing yourself from the Direct Marketing Associations list, which will help cut back on how much marketing you receive in the mail. Of course, remember that criminals are not going to feel any need to honor this list, so you are only really protecting yourself from honest businesses.
  • Consider signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry by calling 1-888-382-1222. Of course, as with the Direct Marketing Association, you are again only protecting yourself from honest businesses. Spammers and illegal telemarketers will not feel the need to honor this registry or any list for that matter.
  • One of the most common and easiest ways for identity thieves to operate is to steal mail. This can be a great source for credit card offers or even replacement credit cards, so it is important that your mailbox is secure. If you ever find that you are missing a bill or an expected piece of mail, it could be an indication that someone has stolen your mail, which is often the first sign of identity theft. This is one of the reasons that PO Boxes are so popular, as they allow you to better secure your mail.
  • If you are going out of town, make sure you arrange for someone you trust to pick up your mail or contact the post office and have them hold it for you until you return to town.
  • Anytime you receive a spam email, letter, or even fax, do not contact or visit the company. Often, these messages are sent out as feelers and by contacting them, the company now knows that someone actually owns this address.
  • Regularly check your credit report, as this is often one of the first indications that you have been the victim of identity theft. Specifically, you want to look for any new lines of credit and any inquiries that have been made. You can actually receive three free credit reports a year, as each of the credit reporting agencies are required to give you a copy of your report. Make sure to only get one report at a time, spreading out all three during the course of a year. You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to signup for your free credit reports. However, there are several disreputable credit card companies as well, so if they ask for a credit card number or require that you sign up for a 30 day trial to use their service, do not use them.
  • Check any other financial statements regularly, such as your bank account and social security statements. In the case of credit card fraud, the victim is rarely held responsible, but it is important that it is caught as soon as possible.

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