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How to avoid and deal with identity theft?

July 10, 2013 | By |

How To Avoid Identity Theft

Don’t Be A Victim!

There has been a great deal of talk about “identity theft” over the last few years and for good reason. Crimes of this nature are certainly on the rise. They often occur without any contact between the victim and the identity thief. The use of computers and the internet has provided new means for criminals to steal from others which did not exist in the past.

How can you avoid identity theft? One way is to be careful what you place in your trash. Bills, financial documents and other paperwork with your personal information can be stolen out of your garbage. All such documents should be shredded before you throw them away. Be careful with your credit cards, checks and other items with personal information which you carry with you daily. You should not carry your social security card in your wallet and be very careful about to whom you give your social security number. Keep personal information in a secure place in your home, like in a safe.

Be suspicious of any email messages asking for your personal account information. This is what is known as “phishing”. You receive an email which looks and sounds official. It may even have your bank’s logo on it. You are asked to link to a web site and enter personal information to verify your account. The account number is then transmitted to someone who intends to misuse it. Real banks do not normally send emails of this nature.

You should also look out for emails from people overseas who are asking for a bank account in the United States to deposit a large sum of money. You may be promised a portion of that money to reply with your bank account number. This is another common email scam which results in identity theft.

If you keep personal account information on your computer, you should have a good firewall installed to keep out hackers. When using passwords, you should not pick something which could be easily determined by someone who knows you. For example, it is not recommended that you use your birth date, your social security number, etc. Do not give out your personal information over the internet unless you are confidant that the web site you are using is secure.

It is recommended that you keep any eye on your financial accounts and bills for signs of possible identity theft. Unexpected withdrawals from your bank account, a statement for a credit card which you do not have, a bill for a cell phone number which is not yours, charges for purchases you did not make, a letter for denial of credit for which you did not apply, a call from a debt collector for a debt that you did not incur – all of these can be signs that someone has stolen your identity or personal information.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of identity theft, make sure to file a police report as soon as possible. You should also immediately notify any banks or credit card companies if you have unexpected charges show up on your account. Any such accounts should be closed and/or have the account numbers changed. Notify the bank or creditor by phone and in writing. You should also place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports. This alerts any creditors who may be reviewing your report that they must take certain procedures before opening an account in your name or before making changes to an existing account. It also shows that you are disputing that information on your credit report as invalid. However, the fraud alert may also delay your ability to obtain credit. An initial alert can be placed by phone, but it is a good idea to follow that up in writing.