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Identity theft: Risk reduction

November 9, 2010

Part 2 of 3
PLYMOUTH — Chances are someone you know has been affected by identity theft.
Your neighbor cannot get a loan because someone else has already taken out loans in his name. You give out your credit card number over the phone and someone else uses it.
Total immunity from identity theft is impossible, but a few practical steps can do much to reduce the risk. The first line of defense is to protect your Social Security number as much as possible through the following:
• Only release your Social Security Number (SSN) when absolutely necessary and never give it out over the phone. Ask questions such as, “Why do you want it and what are you going to do with it?”
• Do not have your SSN printed on checks or other documents such as driver’s licenses or ID cards.
• Never use your SSN, birthdates or maiden names for PIN codes. Do not use information that someone could easily obtain from places like county records or the phone book.
• Review your Social Security benefits statement annually to check for fraud.
Next, protect your credit. Too many credit cards can increase the chance of exposing your credit information.
Credit card accounts are not closed until you call and close them. Your card information can be stolen from bank ATMs and electronic swipe devices. Correcting damaged credit is costly and time consuming. Following are some steps to better protect your credit:
• Use a minimal amount of credit cards (including retail and gas cards).
• Call to cancel old cards and cut them up.
• Keep a list of all your cards and customer service numbers.
• Never loan out your credit/debit cards. Always know where they are.
• Put daily credit limits on your cards.
• Be careful when swiping cards, the magnetic strip information can be retrieved by nearby electronic devices.
• Reduce pre-approved credit card applications by calling 888-834-8688 to get off of the mailing lists.
• Get a free credit check without penalty once a year from www.AnnualCreditReport.com
• Consider putting a “freeze” on your credit reports by contacting the Indiana Attorney General at www.IndianaConsumer.com. Security freezes are designed to prevent a credit reporting company from releasing your credit report without your consent. You will have to remove the freeze before you can apply for a loan.
Some other areas that are vulnerable to theft are your mail, e-mail, computer and your phone. Electronic devices such as computers and cell phones leave traces of personal information behind even after deleted, so take extra precautions before giving them to another person.
Fortunately mail is probably the easiest to protect. Some tips to protect your privacy include:
• To reduce junk mail, contact: Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box #9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
• Buy a cross shredder and shred all unwanted mail and unneeded bills or receipts.
• Do not leave mail in the mailbox overnight. Go to the post office and have a hold put on your mail if you know you are going to be away from home for a few days.
• Never give personal information over cordless or cell phones. Your conversation can be picked up by scanners and even baby monitors. Put a caller ID block on your cell phone.
• When dialing a phone, your name, address and phone number may be captured by someone, so dial *67 before the number you are dialing to block your information.
• Remove SIM cards from your old cell phones and destroy them.
• Either have a professional clean your computer before you dispose of it or remove hard drives from all old computers and destroy them.
• Do not put personal information on social network sites such as Facebook. Remember no site is completely secured.
• Frequently change passwords on your computer and do not use the same password at different sites.
Unfortunately, a time may come when all due diligence fails. What do you do if you find yourself a victim of identity theft?

Tomorrow: Reporting Identity Theft

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