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Do something invaluable, but inexpensive, to protect your identity



Know Your Vulnerability

Are you vulnerable to identity theft? When asked that question, you may counter, “How do I know?” Before you can make changes to protect your identity, you will need to know what changes you need to make. An excellent resource to use to determine your vulnerabilities are The Identity Theft Resource Center’s™ ID theft tests, located at http://www.idtheftcenter.org/artman2/publish/c_theft_test/index.shtml. However, keep in mind that this tests do not cover risks posed by using the Internet without virus software, spyware or other computer protection software.


Take Precautions

There are a variety of resources you can use for help on ways to protect yourself from thieves who work electronically, including the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a division of Homeland Security (located on the Web at http://www.us-cert.gov/nav/nt01/) and the affiliated Carnegie Mellon CERT Coordination Center (located at http://www.cert.org/tech_tips/home_networks.html).

Also, keep in mind that ID theft still often involves physical documents. Because of this, you need to also protect your home. Always lock your doors and, if possible, install a security system. Do not give others access to your home without your supervision. If you have to do this for a cleaning service or repair person, make sure documents with your personal information are in a locked, secure place. Also invest in a document shredder for credit card offers, checks from your credit card company or any other document with personal information. For additional crime prevention tips, visit the National Crime Prevention Council at www.ncpc.org.


Guard Your Numbers with Your Life

Your Social Security number can be used to pay checks, apply for credit cards, obtain insurance coverage and a slew of other financial transactions. Your first step to protecting your Social Security number is to memorize it. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet, do not write it on checks and do not give your number to anyone unless you initiate the transaction, whether it is an employment application, credit application or home loan application. Even if you initiate the transaction, ask anyone who asks for your Social Security number why they want it, how it will be used, how they will protect it and what will happen if you do not provide it.

Most organizations that use Social Security numbers as an identifier, such as health insurance companies and the Department of Motor Vehicles, will provide you with an alternative ID number upon request.

You should also protect your other personal numbers, such as credit card numbers, telephone numbers, address and driver’s license number. Also remember to frequently change your passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs), and invest in a safe or lockable location to store important documents and sensitive information.


Check Credit Reports

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your credit report, especially if you have done a lot of spending or applied for a loan or credit card. You can visit www.annualcreditreport.com once every four months for a free credit report. Each time, a different one of the three major credit reporting agencies will provide you with free, easy monitoring of your credit.


Watch Your Own Records

You can also watch your own records by setting up online access to banking and credit accounts. Log in often to monitor transactions; this will enable you to investigate anything suspicious almost immediately. Finally, make it a habit to carefully scan all of your financial statements each month to check for anything out of the ordinary.

 

 



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