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What You Can Do to Prevent Identity Theft

  1. Do a little spring-cleaning in your wallet or purse even if it is the middle of the summer. Do you really need to carry all the cards and identifications that you presently carry?
  2. If you rent a car while on vacation, remember to destroy your copy of the rental agreement after you have returned the car. Don't leave it in the glove compartment.
  3. Stolen mail is a ripe source of identity theft. When you are traveling, you may want to have a neighbor you trust pick up your mail every day or have your mail held at the post office until your return. Extremely careful people or extremely paranoid people, depending on your characterization of the same people, may prefer to use a post office box rather than a mailbox at home. Identity thieves also get your mail by filling out a "change of address" form using your name to divert your mail to them. If you find you are not receiving any mail for a couple of days, it is worth contacting your local postmaster to make sure everything is okay. A recent preventive measure instituted by the U.S. Postal Service requires post offices to send a "Move Validation Letter" to both the old and the new address whenever a change of address is filed. If you receive one of these notices and you have not changed your address, you should respond immediately because it could well be a warning that an identity thief has targeted you. A careful credit card holder keeps an eye on his or her mailbox for the arrival each month of his or her monthly statement from the credit card company. If a bill is missing, it may mean that someone has hijacked your account and filed a change of address form with the credit card issuer to buy some more time. The sooner you become aware that security of your account has been compromised, the better off you will be. You should also be particularly watchful of the mail when your card is close to expiration. An identity thief may be in a position to steal your mail containing your new card. If an identity thief is armed with enough personal information to activate the card, you could be in trouble.
  4. Prudent people may wish to use travelers' checks while on vacation rather than taking their checkbook because an enterprising identity thief who manages to get your checkbook can access your checking account and drain it.
  5. Be wary of who may be around you when you use an ATM machine. Someone may be looking over your shoulder at you inputting your PIN number. That same someone may lift your wallet shortly thereafter. Next step&8212;disaster.
  6. Make copies of all your credit cards front and back so that you can tell whether a card has been lost or stolen. Also keep a list of the customer service telephone numbers for each card. When copying your cards, you may wish to consider whether you really need that many cards.
  7. Be careful storing personal information and mail even in your own home. In April of 2004, Shreveport, Louisiana, police arrested a babysitter on identity theft charges. They alleged that she stole a credit application mailed to the people for whom she was babysitting and also opened other accounts using the Social Security number of her employer that she had found while rummaging through their documents.
  8. After you have received a loan, a credit card, or anything else that required you to complete an application containing your Social Security number, request that your Social Security number be removed from the application kept on record. In addition, if you are feeling particularly paranoid, ask that your credit report used by the bank or other institution be shredded in your presence. They no longer need that information after you have received the loan.
  9. Make life easier for yourself. Remove yourself from the marketing lists for pre-approved credit cards and other solicitations. You can remove yourself from the Direct Marketing Association's solicitation list by writing to them at Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735. Include your name and address, but no other personal information. You can also register for the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service to opt out of national mailing lists online at www.dmaconsumers.org, but there is a five-dollar charge for doing so. DMA members are required to remove people who have registered with the Mail Preference Service from their mailings. However, because the list is distributed only four times a year, it may take about three months from the time that your name has been entered to see a reduction in junk mail.
  10. Register with the Direct Marketing Association's E-Mail Preference Service to opt out of national e-mail lists. Again, although this will reduce your spam e-mail, it will not eliminate it because many spammers are not members of the Direct Marketing Association. You can register for the E-mail Preference Service online at http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumers/optoutform_emps.shtml.
  11. If you do get unwanted spam e-mails, do not click on the "remove me" link provided by many spam e-mails. All you will succeed in doing is letting them know that you are an active address and you will end up receiving even more unwanted e-mails.
  12. If you receive spam faxes, you also should be wary of contacting the telephone number to remove yourself from their lists. It is already illegal for you to have received the spam fax. Contacting the sender by its telephone removal number may cost you for the call and will not reduce your spam faxes.
  13. Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce unwanted telemarketing calls. Most telemarketers are legitimate. Almost all are annoying, and many are criminals setting you up for identity theft. In order to sign up for the Do Not Call Registry, you may call toll free 1-888-382-1222 or register online at www.donotcall.gov.
  14. Check your credit report at least annually and remember to get copies from each of the three major credit report bureaus, all of which independently compile the information contained in their files. Look over your file and make sure everything is in order. Particularly look for unauthorized and inaccurate charges or accounts. Also, check out the section of your report that deals with inquiries. A large number of inquiries that you have not authorized could be the tracks of an identity thief trying to open accounts in your name. A large number of inquiries can also have the harmful effect of lowering your credit score.
  15. Check your annual Social Security statement as provided by the Social Security Administration annually. It provides an estimate of your Social Security benefits and your contributions and can be helpful in detecting fraud. It is also a good thing to check this statement carefully each year to make sure that the information contained within it is accurate to insure that you are slated to receive all the Social Security benefits to which you are entitled.
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