How to Prevent Identity Theft

Credit card
Credit card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is reported that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in North America. Scam artists from around the world are  targeting people hourly. What are the best ways to protect yourself, your business, and your family?

Everything is not new. Identity thieves still use methods they have used for hundreds of years. They listen to conversations and steal purses and wallets in public places. They go into hospitals and follow patients to examination rooms and wait for them to disrobe and place clothes on hooks or in lockers while they go for medical procedures. In public transportation locations where there are lockers they duplicate the keys and then wait for someone to use the locker and leave. All the old ways are still as profitable as before.

Now however we have many new methods that make it even easier for the thieves to steal your identity.

We all have many ways we communicate with each other, with our financial institutions and with retailers. Cel phones, email, blogs, social network sites, this list seems to get larger everyday as the internet and programmers try to get our attention with new devices and software.

So how do we keep our information private?

1) Shred all your mail. If you do not have a shredder then cut off your name and address from envelopes and letters. Check to make certain no identifiable information such as customer numbers, registration numbers, account numbers and even phone numbers are readable when you place them in the trash. If you  do not have a shredder, cut them off and flush them down the toilet.

2) When you use a credit card or any bank card to pay a bill keep the receipt and balance your accounts at the end of the day. If you are using it online take special care to decide that the site is a secure site. This is as simple as determining that the URL is https://.  Notice the s on the end in comparison to http://. Many sites now also have a padlock symbol in the address bar. Also software programs are available that help decide if a site is real and not a spoofing/fake/ phishing site.

ATM machines, even those in banks have been found to have devices illegally installed, skimmers, that steal your card information, and cameras to record which numbers you push for your PIN. Sometimes these are easy to recognize by making you place too much of the card into the slot.  Non bank ATM machines are not 100% safe. They also charge an increased fee for using them. Why should you pay extra to get your money.

3) Phone calls are one of the easiest ways to scam you. Just because someone calls and says they are that person from that company does not mean it is true The best security on your part is to never ever give any personal information over the phone to anybody. If it is a bank go to the physical location and talk face to face. If it is a company you have dealt with tell them to mail the information. If you are a customer they will have your mailing address on file. Cel phones are also a way to scam you for a few dollars a month. Be careful what you agree to. Sometimes receiving a daily horoscope could end up costing you money at the end of the month.

4) Do not mail registration cards that come with new products. They are usually mailed without an envelope and why are they needed. You have the receipt from the store and know  the retailer where you purchased the product, so take it back if it breaks. Most states/provinces has laws about this.

5) Do not sign up to receive polls or market surveys. These will give your personal information a bit at a time to whomever emails or snail mails them. Over time they would be able to known what you own, what your tastes are and where you spend your money. Sometimes they just want information to determine if it is  worth breaking into your house.

6) Protect your computer. We all have a lot of personal information stored on our computers. Update the software on your system when the software company creates updates. Install antivirus and anti malware/spyware programs. Delete cookies regularly and empty your cache. Watch what you post on Facebook, Twitter and  other social sites. Don’t post information that you are not home, or having a shower. After each visit to a financial site or  buy from a retailer make sure you log out from the site. If you know how to do it, delete the cookies and form values as well. This will prevent someone else logging into your computer from automatically continuing to shop or transferring money from your accounts because the accounts had been left open or the logon information was saved to allow quick opening of these online accounts.

http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud

http://www.equifax.com/answers/set-fraud-alerts/en_cp

http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/

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