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Making Yourself Less Vulnerable to Identity Theft

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In this excerpt from his book, Steve Weisman discusses types of identity theft and steps you can take to protect yourself from them.
This chapter is from the book

Identity thieves believe that they deserve a lot of credit. Unfortunately, the credit to which they are convinced they are entitled is yours. Credit cards present an all-too-easy target for identity thieves. Protecting your credit cards from identity theft should be a priority for everyone. Take the following steps to reduce your chances of being the victim of credit card fraud:

  1. Sign your credit card as soon as you receive it, and activate it. Some people believe that instead of signing your credit card, you should write “See ID” on the signature line on the back of the card. The hope is that whenever your card is used, the clerk or whoever is processing your purchase will check your ID to make sure that you are the one using your credit card. It sounds like a good idea, but credit card issuers are in general agreement that it is best to sign your card. Under the rules enforced between merchants and the major credit card issuers, such as Visa, Master-Card, and American Express, a merchant is supposed to compare the signature on the sales slip with the signature on the credit card. The merchant should refuse to go through with the transaction if the cardholder refuses to sign his or her card.
  2. As much as possible, do not let your credit card out of your sight when you make a purchase; a significant amount of credit card fraud occurs when the salesperson with whom you are dealing, out of your view, swipes your card through a small apparatus called a “skimmer” that gathers all the information embedded in your card. The thief then uses that information to make charges to your account. Skimmers can also be unobtrusively installed on ATMs, gas pumps, and any other machine through which you swipe your card. Always check any ATM or other machine for tampering before inserting your card.
  3. Save your receipts and ultimately destroy those receipts by shredding.
  4. Never give credit card information over the phone to anyone unless you have initiated the call.

Lottery Scams

Let’s face it. Winning a lottery is difficult enough, but it certainly is made more difficult if you have not even entered, which is why when you are notified that you have won a lottery that you did not enter, you should be skeptical. You should be even more skeptical if the e-mail message informing you of your good fortune asks for some personal information from you, such as a bank account number. It’s a scam, and its sole purpose is to make you the victim of identity theft. Some phony lotteries will tell you that they need you to pay them for the income taxes on your prize. Although it is true that legitimate lottery winnings are subject to income taxes, either those taxes will be withheld from your prize before you receive your payment or you will be responsible for making the tax payment directly to the IRS. No legitimate lottery collects the income tax due from you.

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