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More Tips for Making Yourself Safer from Identity Theft

The bad news is that you can’t do anything to guarantee that you will not become the victim of identity theft. The good news is that there are a number of simple (and not so simple) steps you can take that can reduce your chances of becoming an identity theft victim. Some seem a bit excessive, and perhaps they are, but the decision is up to you. Remember, even paranoids have enemies.

  1. Consider paying bills online. It can be cheaper and more secure. But be sure that the online service you are using has security protection. Anytime you provide personal information online, make sure that the site is secure. On Internet Explorer, look for the little lock symbol which shows that your information is being encrypted.
  2. Check your bank statements, telephone statements, credit card statements, and brokerage account statements for unauthorized charges. Each month when you get your statements, scrutinize them carefully to make sure that every charge is legitimate. Keep your statements in a safe and secure place. Shred the statements when you no longer need them. If a monthly bill does not arrive on time, promptly notify the company. Sometimes a thief will use your personal information to get your credit card company or other company with which you do business to send your bill to a new address. In this way, the identity thief is able to prolong the period that he or she is able to fraudulently use your account before you or the company becomes aware of its improper use.
  3. Your mother was right. Don’t talk to strangers. Updating Mom’s advice, don’t talk to strangers online. Do not download files that are sent to you from people you do not know. Not only could your computer be damaged through a virus, but you also could be subjected to computer programs commonly called “spyware” that permit an identity thief to access your personal information.
  4. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
  5. Get a shredder to destroy all your unnecessary financial records as well as preapproved credit card offers. Dumpster-diving identity thieves can go through your trash to find the mother lode of information for identity theft.
  6. Do not write down your PIN or passwords. However, be sure that whatever PIN or password you choose is not something that is easily associated with you, such as your name or your pet’s name.
  7. Do not store your personal information on your laptop computer. Laptop computers present a tantalizing target for thieves. Many people prepare their income tax returns on their computers, forgetting about the sensitive personal financial information that might be left on their hard drives. Always remove this information from your computer upon completion of your tax return.
  8. Get a good antivirus software program and keep it constantly updated. Viruses can infect your computer with spyware programs that, unbeknown to you, might cause your computer to send information stored on your computer to the hacker that can facilitate identity theft.
  9. Set up a firewall on your computer. A firewall is a computer program that makes it more difficult for hackers to get access to your computer by preventing or selectively blocking access to your computer through the Internet There are many good firewall programs that are easy to install on your computer.
  10. When you get rid of your computer, it is not enough to merely delete personal information. Deleted information remains on your hard drive and can be readily accessed by a computer-savvy identity thief. Make sure you use one of the special programs, such as the free program Eraser, that will effectively remove the information from your hard drive. Alternatively, you can do what I prefer to do, which is remove the hard disk from the computer and smash it into oblivion with a hammer.
  11. Take advantage of obtaining your annual free credit report from each of the three credit-reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—so you can look for unauthorized charges and evidence of identity theft, as well as make sure there are no innocent mistakes on your reports that could harm your credit. Obtain your free credit reports on a staggered basis from each of the three credit-reporting agencies and get one every four months for better, more current protection. You can get your report from Equifax at www.equifax.com, from Experian at www.experian.com, and from TransUnion at www.transunion.com.
  12. Put a credit freeze on your credit report at each of the three credit-reporting agencies. Through a credit freeze, you are able to prevent access by anyone to your credit report even if they have your Social Security number. You are the only one who has access to your credit report, by way of a PIN that you pick. If you need to apply for credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze on your credit report and then put it back when the company you want to have access to your report has finished.
  13. If you are in the military and deployed away from home, you can place an active duty alert on your credit reports at each of the three credit-reporting agencies that lasts for a year and can be renewed if necessary. This will restrict access to credit without your approval.
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