Thursday, June 5, 2008

How to prevent identity theft in 8 easy steps

I picked up a book the other day entitled Scam Proof Your Life by Sid Kirchheimer. Pretty good read with alot of decent tips in it covering a wide range of topics. One of the main ones I read over was the Identity Theft section that I'll cover and add my own two cents on.

1. Be sure to shred all documents and mail that concerns any personal or financial information. Be sure to use a cross-cut shredder. I personally own a Fellowes Powershred DM-12C, which I love, but may be a bit more heavy duty than you need. Any cross-cut shredder will do.

2. Review your credit history at least once a year to make sure everything on it is the way it's supposed to be. Earlier I wrote about how to get free credit reports from all three bureaus courtesy of the US government here.

3. Mail your bills and other items with personal or financial information from a locked postal box. A home mailbox with a flag up is a target for identity thieves, but tampering with a locked USPS mailbox is a federal offense and most ID thieves don't want to risk that.

4. Opt out of all pre-approved credit card mailings and other offers. I wrote about this and included the information on how to stop these mailings here.

5. If any telemarketer ever asks for your social security number, bank account information, or any other sensitive personal data, just hang up on them. It may seem rude, but your bank account will thank you.

6. Be sure to never carry your ATM PIN code or Social Security card on you when you're outside of the house.

7. When you receive email from someone or a group you don't know, delete it. There are many scams running on the internet that involve this in one way or another, so it's best to just avoid the situation. If you get an email from a bank or company you deal with requesting an account number or other sensitive data, contact that company via a phone call first asking if they sent the email. Most companies do not ask for this information due to security risks, so be sure to check via a phone call first.

8. Always be sure to check your monthly account statements for your bank and credit accounts. If you find something wrong, report it immediately. I was once taken for a monthly charge of about $40 by a company that had a clause in their fine print. It took me 4 months to notice it and I was out $160, don't let this happen to you.

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