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Identity Theft Prevention

While it is impossible to completely insulate yourself from the danger of identity theft, you can take steps toward identity theft protection.

Begin at home, by keeping your credit cards and financial documents locked in a safe place when not in use. Considering that about one in every ten homes in the U.S. is burglarized each year, this is an important first step. That credit card or checkbook laying on the kitchen counter is easy pickings.

Compound a thief’s frustration by password protecting your computer, so it is impossible to quickly log on and access confidential information. House breakers don’t want to stay too long!

Next, instead of tossing unneeded documents in the trash, shred or burn them. One non-technical yet popular way for identity thieves to get your information is by trolling neighborhoods on “trash night” to pick up bags of trash for later sorting. Some also dig  through community dumpsters.

If your mail arrives at an unattended mailbox, install a lock and a mail slot. Identity thieves love to pick up your mail before you get home – helping themselves to credit information, medical insurance numbers, and even learning your birth date. In addition, those thieves are very willing to pick up and cash any checks that might arrive.

Identity theft prevention also includes being careful when using credit and debit cards. Obviously, you don’t want to lose them, but your information can be gained in other ways.

For instance, some crooks install “readers” on ATM machines. These readers not only see the numbers on your card, they see the PIN numbers that you use to access your funds.

Others simply hang out in check out lines at the store, pretending to make phone calls, but photographing your cards and watching as you enter your PIN.

Never let your credit card out of your sight when dining out, even though it is convenient to hand it to your server to process and return. Watch for slight-of-hand at checkout counters, as some identity thieves simply install a second reader under the counter, where your card can be swiped for information.

Online identity theft prevention includes using passwords that are not easily guessed, and changing them often.

It also includes NOT responding to emails that ask for your personal identification. Don’t call the numbers listed in the email, either. If you get a letter that appears to be an important request from your bank or a store where you do business, don’t click the link. Instead, go to their site or call the number that you have on your own paperwork from that company. When you pay bills on line, don’t respond to the reminder link, but go to their site from a bookmark you’ve placed on your computer.

File sharing software also offers an opportunity for thieves. Your kids may love to share music and videos, but the people who are “sharing” with them may be helping themselves to confidential information on your computer.

Finally, don’t offer personal information on social networking sites. If an identity thief who has your credit card information goes on line, he or she can often find all the other information needed to completely assume your identity.

Identity theft prevention may be bothersome, but taking steps to protect yourself is far less bothersome than dealing with identity theft after it happens.
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