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Preventing ID Theft

No matter how many precautions you take, identity thieves can find a way to steal your identity. But there are precautions you can take to minimize your risk for identity theft and help you catch identity theft quickly.

1. Place passwords on bank, credit card, and phone accounts: Don’t use a password that could be easily guessed, such as your pet’s name or your birth date and choose a password that mixes random numbers with letters.

2. Don’t carry your social security card: Don’t even carry the number on you. Don’t use it as your driver’s license number either. Keep the card in a safe place and use the number only when necessary.

3. Order a copy of your credit report: Order a copy from each of the credit bureaus each year. A credit report contains information on where you live, where you work, how you pay your bills, whether you’ve ever been sued, arrested, or ever filed for bankruptcy, and what credit accounts have been opened in your name. Reviewing your credit report can alert you to any fraud or errors. This is very important and one of the best ways to catch identity theft. You are entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Take advantage of it.

4. Pay close attention to billing cycles: If a bill does not arrive on time, it is possible that an identity thief may have taken it, so remember to check with creditors about a late bill.

5. Guard your mail from theft: Instead of leaving your mail to be picked up in an unlocked mailbox, take it to the post office or leave it in a post office collection box. Make sure you remove your incoming mail right away. Try not to leave mail in your mailbox overnight.

6. Don’t give out personal information over the Internet, on the phone, or through the mail unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure about identity of the person or company. Be aware of schemes such as “phishing” in which the identity thief pretends to be from a legitimate organization or business in order to retrieve personal information from you. This might include calls or emails from someone claiming to be from your bank needing to confirm your Social Security number or bank account number. Be aware of promotional scams that use phony offers as a way to obtain personal information.

7. Keep your information safe online: Only send your personal information, such as your credit card number, over a secure connection (a secure connection has an address that begins with “https” and has a small padlock at the bottom of the page. A window should also pop up telling you that the Web site is secure). Make sure you have virus protection that you update regularly. Use a firewall program to protect your computer from being accessed by others, especially if you have high-speed Internet which keeps your computer connected 24 hours a day, and a secure browser. You may also want to unplug your Internet while you are not using it. Don’t download any files or click on links sent to you by people you don’t know.

8. Be wary of “pharming” scams: Pharming happens when you type in the address for a legitimate bank or e-commerce Web site and get rerouted to a copycat Web site. Identity thieves use this scam to obtain your personal information when you log into the Web site. Here are some ways to spot pharming:

• Highlight text. The Web site is a copycat if the blocks of text are actually images.
• Look for spelling or grammatical errors.
• Links on the page don’t work.
• You should never be asked to verify information.
• Legitimate log-in pages should be encrypted so you should see a padlock at the bottom of the browser and the address should begin with “https”. You can click on the padlock to make sure the site’s security is registered to the right company.