How to avoid identity theft

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. The Federal Trade Commission reports that 9.9 million people a year become victims of identity theft. That means in one minute, about 19 people will be targeted by criminals of opportunity seeking important personal information. Avoid becoming a victim of identity theft with the following tips.

  • Change your passwords. If you change your online passwords frequently, your chances of becoming an identity theft victim will be greatly reduced. Use unique passwords and make them different for each account you use.
  • Shred financial documents. Credit card statements, bank statements, car payment documents, investment reports, 401(k) papers, receipts and tax forms all contain personal information that can be used to steal your identity. Shred these documents to keep your identifying information private. The rule of thumb here: Shred anything that lists your name, account number or Social Security number. Always shred credit card offers you’re not interested in.
  • Review bank and credit card statements carefully. Be aware of your spending habits by monitoring what’s coming out of your accounts. If you use online banking, check your account daily for any unusual activity.
  • Avoid using public computers. It might be tempting to check your accounts while you’re at the library, but it’s easy to leave behind personal information inadvertently. Stick to your personal devices to access your accounts.
  • Monitor your mail. Thieves can target mailboxes with ease. More reports of identity theft are coming from apartment complexes where neighbors take advantage of community mail areas. Consider a P.O. Box if you perceive any threats. It might be worth the extra expense to keep your information secure.
  • Learn to look for phishing scams. Be wary of emails that contain links redirecting you to your banking site. Often, criminals can create sites that look identical to your financial institution’s Web page and record the account data you enter. Many banks use features like personal photo identifiers and other security measures to protect you. Know your bank’s security features so you know when to avoid entering your information. Avoid using email links and instead type the website you need directly into your browser’s address bar.
  • Secure your wireless network. If your wireless network is open, you can easily become a target for criminals. Thieves can access your Internet and view your Web use to learn all kinds of valuable personal information. Protect and lock your network with a password so only you can access it.
  • Notify agencies if a family member passes. It’s a sad and horrible truth, but criminals even target the deceased. If a family member dies, make copies of the death certificate to send to financial institutions and insurance companies. Remove their name from any joint accounts and contact credit reporting agencies to request a deceased alert. This notifies companies that this person has died and cannot be issued credit.

It takes the average identity theft victim about $500 and 30 hours to resolve each crime. Most can be resolved if they are caught early, so be vigilant about monitoring your accounts and avoid making yourself an easy target for criminals.

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