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Preventing Identity Theft

Personal Finance


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Preventing identity theft is highly correlated to your personal behavior. Your actions in three general areas can increase or reduce your exposure to identity theft and resulting financial problems. The first area is preventing identity theft while handling sensitive information. The second area is an activity during sales and transactions. The third area is handling and destroying sensitive documents, which can be the most important area to prevent identity theft. Carefully managing each will substantially lower your identity theft risk.

Sensitive Information

Information related to your identity is the prime target for identity thieves. Acquiring your credit or debit card information is useful, but they know you will eventually disable the card. The gold mine is being able to create new accounts in your name or managed accounts while your access is denied. You must carefully handle or discard every single document related to your financial identity.

Your first concern is the reception of your sensitive and private documents. Ensure that every single financial document with important financial or personal information makes it to your doorstep. For more security, confirm delivered information cannot be acquired by another person. Your current address should always be the address on record, and your reception box must require a key or combination to open. If it does not, either install a lock, request a lock be installed, or switch to digital billing.

Checks are one type of sensitive document which you should keep under lock and key unless using them to pay bills or retail transactions. In these cases, you must be careful not to lose checks. It is highly recommended to keep lost and stolen phone numbers programmed in your mobile phone. Use these numbers to quickly contact companies and invalidate lost or stolen payment methods. You should always use cross shredders on undesired or canceled payment methods. Lock away any backup copies of credit cards, debit cards, or checkbooks. Be sure to delete them from any online database or saved account information.

Always send financial documents through a cross shredder. If you don’t have one, they’re easily purchased at any office store. Cross shredders slice papers into tiny squares, instead of the long strips of paper. This makes the pieces of paper substantially harder to reassemble. People have often dug through trash to acquire strips, then slowly tapped them back together to acquire information which makes others vulnerable to identity theft.

Many consumers place themselves at risk by carrying unnecessary information on their person, such as their social security number. If your wallet was lost or stolen a thief would your name, address, credit cards, and social security number. Lost credit cards are easily canceled, but the others are difficult to change. Armed with these, an identity thief will easily secure loans, bank accounts, and credit cards. The only thing they need is a fake ID with their picture and your name.

Banking, Credit, and Information

Information related to banking or credit accounts must be particularly protected. Never automatically log in to websites related to banking, credit cards, online payment processors, or billing payments. This should never occur on any computer and smartphone, even personal items in case of burglary or other issues. Usernames and passwords on user accounts can easily be hacked if a thief has constant device access.

Properly handling of bank statements can help prevent identity theft in online and digital formats. Check your bank statement once per week, usually on Saturday or Sunday morning, to ensure no false or fraudulent charges have been made in your name. Review your balance and your transaction history, and make sure it matches your retail and bill paying activity. If it doesn’t, the correcting identity theft section will guide you through the appropriate process for repairs.

Your Personal Identification Numbers should never be shared with anyone or easily decipherable. The same applies to passwords. If your password includes your name, birthday, or “123password”, you should change it immediately. Your passwords and pin numbers should be hard for others to guess but easy for you to remember. In fact, the way you enter your PINs at ATMs and storefronts should not allow onlookers to guess the number.

All credit and debit cards should be signed in the appropriate section. Note that barely anyone ever actually compares the signature on the card with the signature on your receipts. Do not rely on signatures as a measure of security. Checks should never be signed in advance of a transaction.

Credit card, debit card, and personal identification numbers (PINs) should never be given to anyone who initiates a conversation with you or asks for them. The same applies to social security, password, and personal information. A bank or retailer will never pick up the phone to call you and request a credit or debit card number. Ignore anyone who claims to be a retailer requiring your credit card number. If they say they’ve made a mistake transcribing your card number, or you’re unsure about the situation, call the bank or retailer’s public access customer service line. Use your order number or transaction information other than your credit card, and ask if the transaction cleared. If your order or transaction did not clear, cancel the previous order. Start a completely new order via the stores normal online or retail process.

Sales Transactions

Retail and online transactions are both places where your identity can easily be stolen. Careful attention should be paid to both types of transaction. Leaving receipts or personal possessions behind in-store transactions can result in stolen identities while storing information in online websites will expose you to the risks of site hacking.

When transacting within a storefront, you’re vulnerable to lost credit cards and credit card information. Never leave your card behind, and specifically keep your wallet open in your hand until you have received the card back. Any receipts you receive should never be discarded in trash bins. Place receipts in your wallet for storage until you return home, where you can cross shred or incinerate them. Never use a single shredder for financial documents, or simply rip them apart. These pieces can be reconstructed by a patient identity thief. Use shredders that create dozens of tiny squares.

When dealing with online transactions never permanently store your credit or debit card information on a website. By deleting never saving debit or credit card information, you reduce the risk someone hacking your account will be able to execute transactions in your name. You will also reduce the risk of being personally included in a database breach, in which hackers acquire thousands or millions of customer credit card profiles from a single corporation’s website. This rule also extends to your smartphone and personal laptops or computers. Any burglar or thief who steals your electronic device may gain access to your personal online information if they can hack entry into your user accounts.

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