Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Few Simple Steps Can Help Protect Your Identity

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, there are over 1,000 victims of identity theft per day. This too common problem is not a laughing matter according to Janet LaFon, family financial education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“Most people have no idea how the thief got their information. Frequently, it happens when a wallet or purse is lost or stolen. But many thieves get information in other ways – from trash, by stealing mail out of home mailboxes, at businesses and through the Internet,” said LaFon.

Sometimes thieves gain access to places that keep records for many people, such as schools, hospitals, car dealers or fitness centers. They may even use the stolen identities themselves, or sell them to other thieves.

Unfortunately, identity thieves are frequently someone we know according to LaFon.

“Family members, friends, hired help, for example, often have access to our private information and may be tempted to use it,” said LaFon.

With the holidays just a few months away, it is a good time to review steps that can be taken to prevent fraud.

First and foremost, keep personal information safe. “Don’t keep your personal identification numbers (PINs) with your checkbook, ATM card or debit card,” said LaFon.

It is also a good idea to shred any papers that contain confidential information before you throw them out or recycle them.

“I also recommend keeping as few credit cards as possible in your purse or wallet,” said LaFon. “Another big no-no: never carry your Social Security number with you.”

LaFon also recommends being especially careful about giving out your Social Security number.

“Some businesses may have a real reason for needing your social security number, but not all,” said LaFon.

It is also a good idea to be cautious when giving out personal information on the telephone or through the Internet.

“Unless you initiated the contact, don’t give out confidential information. If using the Internet, find out about the security level of the website before giving personal information,” said LaFon.

Be sure to review bank and credit statements when they arrive to make sure all transactions are legitimate.

Finally, obtain copies of your Credit Report on a regular basis (preferably at least once a year) to check for suspicious activity.

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