Identity Theft

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Identity theft is one of those things, most people don't seem to be very concerned about. Common thinking is that if it hasn't happened to me, it doesn't exist  or that If I don't use credit cards or shop on phone, I am safe or the worst, that it can't happen to me.  Well..!! the problem of identify theft does exist, it is more prevalent than most people think, everyone may be vulnerable and it is going to take a whole lot more, than not having the credit cards or not using them on phone or online, to protect yourself.

Every year, fraudulent charges cost banks and credit card companies billions and each of everyone has to pay for it as the banks merely transfer most of these costs to consumers. And that's not it, the victims have to spend hundreds and sometime thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to clean their credit reports. This is still benign considering what can happen if someone assumes your identity and engages in some criminal activity while going undetected for a long time. Have you ever received an e-mail with your bank/internet provider or some trusting e mail address or received a phone call telling you that you have won a sweepstakes or that your bank is just making a courtesy call for some reason and before they can talk to you they need to confirm your personal information;  or  you may have written a check at checkout counter of a store. Unless you are careful anyone of these simple looking day to day stuff  can result in a criminal mind acquiring your most personal information.

Lets review a simple action such as writing a check at a store;  Have you ever thought how much information is being passed on to people you don't know while you write a simple check.  Well..!! lets see... your name, address and bank account # is on the check for starters.....when sometimes your phone # is not listed, the clerk asks you for your home and work phone numbers (it is not legal in lot of states but  you don't have to provide it even if it is) and they write it on the check. Then you might have to show  your driver 's license (which incidentally  has your date of birth) to establish your id.  The clerk writes the driver's license number (SS# in lot of states) on the check. ...In less than a couple of minutes, the check writer might have handed a criminal mind what they are looking for. Then from this point on your information is going pass through probably hundreds of hands and anyone of them can potentially misuse it. This information may be good enough to obtain a bank account, a credit card or a phone and the list goes on and on...Well...!! Enough said...!!!

There is however no need to get paranoid but just be careful. The following 7 tips may help you reduce the risk of being one of the approximately 500,000 victims of identity theft every year.

1. Guard your  Social Security number: The most important step is to guard your Social Security number. It it is "the" key to your credit report and banking accounts and is the prime target of criminals. Do not print your Social Security number on your checks. Do not provide social security number to anyone you don't know on phone or online. After applying for a loan, credit card, rental or anything else that requires a credit report, request that your Social Security number on the application be truncated or completely obliterated and your original credit report be shredded before your eyes or returned to you once a decision has been made. A lender or rental manager needs to retain only your name and credit score to justify a decision.

2. Monitor your Credit Report:   Credit reports can alert you to activity in your financial records. A monitoring service, such as Privacy Guard, will notify you whenever someone applies for credit in your name or checks your credit history. Order your credit reports and check for any unusual activity. There are numerous Web sites that let you order your report, in some cases free of charge. It might be useful to  get reports from all three agencies as the reviewer (lenders/employers/rental managers) maybe  using any one of the three reports.

3. Remove your name from marketing lists: All credit bureaus maintain marketing lists that may contain your information. Contact the agencies to remove your name from the lists. You can sign up for no call registry. You also should add your name to the name-deletion lists of the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service used by banks and other marketers. Removing your name from these lists reduces the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive.

4. Keep duplicate records:  Keep  duplicate records of your license and credit cards so you have all the account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers in case your wallet or purse is stolen. In the event of a theft, cancel your credit cards etc right away.

5.Obtain a low credit limit credit card for travel or phone purchases: Most credit card issuers will issue second card with very low credit limit that you can carry when you travel or use it when you make phone or online purchases. Also it might be worth it to keep credit limit on your regular credit card to a reasonable amount.

6. Watch where and how you mail your bill payment: Do not to mail the bill payment from home. If you must, don't leave them in the mail box overnight. Try to either hand deliver it to the mail carrier or leave them in the mail box during the day time.

7. Invest in a good quality Shredder:  Don't throw your old bills, credit card solicitation, old credit card/bank statement etc intact in the garbage. Shred them with a good quality shredder before disposing them off.







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