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Preventing Identity Theft

Protecting your identity begins by reducing the number of places where your personal information can be found. You can remove yourself from many mailing lists for up to five years by contacting the Direct Marketing Association. There is a processing fee for this service, however you can opt-out of pre-screened credit offers for free through Other free services include the state and federal no-call lists, and the Network Advertising Initiative's opt-out list which opts out of major online tracking companies.

Next reduce the number of credit cards you have and only carry the cards that you intend to use. If possible use credit cards that have your photo on them.

If any of your credit card companies send random-issue convenience checks, request in writing to be removed from that mailing list. Also ask your bank about its privacy and information policies. Find out if your bank provides your account information to third parties. Ask to opt out of this practice or request that they notify you in advance. If you receive an offer for a pre-approved credit card or loan but aren't interested, shred the application form before throwing it away.

Do not carry your Social Security card with you unless you need it. Provide your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask if another number can be used instead. Also never print your Social Security number on your checks. If your workplace displays your Social Security number on a timecard or other place open to public view, ask them to change this procedure.

Use passwords and install an electronic firewall to keep burglars and Internet hackers from accessing your computer. Make sure you use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer to check for malicious programs that you may have inadvertently downloaded - and keep that software up to date along with your web browser. Check with your Internet Service Provider about any free virus, spyware, and firewall software they may provide. Beware of new scams such as Phishing (false emails pretending to be a trusted company or financial institution). Do not give your credit card number or other financial information over the Internet unless you are certain you have a secure connection. A secure connection will have an "s" after the "http" web address and an icon of a "closed lock" or "key" at the bottom of the screen. And if you access the Internet over a wireless connection, be careful not to transmit personally identifying information if the connection is unsecure (did not require a password) or untrusted. Save any transaction or confirmation numbers from Internet purchases and make a note of the time and contents of the order. Review the privacy policy of any online company you deal with. Request that they not share your financial information.

You can also reduce the chance that you will be a victim of identity theft by taking the following precautions:

  • Minimize the amount of personal financial information you carry. Memorize passwords and PIN numbers. Do not carry them.
  • Keep financial information in a secure place in your home. Shred documents before throwing them away. Purchase a cross-cut shredder to better protect your information.
  • Do not give sensitive information to unsolicited callers. Legitimate businesses will not make unsolicited calls asking for your Social Security or bank account numbers. Caller ID information can be spoofed, so do not rely on the name and number that is on your box.
  • Shield your hand when entering your PIN at a bank ATM or when making long distance calls with a calling card. Take your ATM slip and shred it before throwing it away.
  • Pick up new checks or credit cards at your bank rather than having them delivered to your home. Do not print your driver's license or social security number on your checks.
  • If your bank or credit card statement does not arrive on time, call to make sure they sent it to the proper address. Also contact the Post Office to see if a change of address has been filed in your name. A thief may steal or divert your statements to hide the theft.

Because of the nature of identity theft, you may not realize your identity has been stolen until much later. By then, your good name and credit history can be in ruins. Because nothing can guarantee you protection from identity thieves, you should also be vigilant to detect theft as quickly as possible.

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