Saturday, May 20, 2006

10 things that you can do to protect your precious name.

Every 79 seconds there is another victim of identity theft. Perhaps too, this victim having thousands of dollars stripped from their accounts, new accounts opened in their name, their dependable credit history contaminated--maybe even arrested for a crime they did not commit.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not far-fetched, it happens all the time. Maybe not in most cases, but it happens enough--leaving a path of financial destruction that may take the victim years to recover.

With identity theft being the fastest growing crime in the United States and it alone, accounting for over 42 percent of all complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission, it’s no wonder so many people are concerned.

Grandmas and Grandpas, adults from all walks of life--even teenagers, are all wondering how they can protect themselves from becoming the next identity theft victim.

The following are 10 basic, yet very effective, things that you can do to protect your identity:

1. Protect Your Social Security Number.
Your Social Security Number is of great significance to an identity thief. Do not keep it on your person; keep it in a locked, secure place. Give your Social Security number only when it is necessary.

I recommend that you review your Social Security earnings report annually. Check your employment history and earnings for accuracy. Report any discrepancies to the Social Security Administration.

2. Monitor Your Financial Statements.
It is imperative that you know when your statements should arrive in the mail. If they are more than a couple of days late, contact the appropriate bank or financial institution immediately. A missing statement could indicate a thief is at work.

Review your statements thoroughly for any unauthorized transactions or suspicious activity. Many times, a thief will make small purchases; such transactions are much more likely to avoid detection. If there are ANY discrepancies contact your financial institution to understand what is happening.

3. Monitor Your Credit Reports.
Monitoring your credit reports every 4-6 months should be a part of your identity theft prevention strategy. You should verify that all the information is correct. Many times your credit report can be the first clue that an identity thief is at work to steal your precious name.

4. Monitor Your Postal Mail.
The United States Postal Service acknowledges that mail is involved in a significant number of identity theft cases. Make it a point to retrieve your mail shortly after it is delivered--the longer it stays unattended in your mailbox, the greater the chances of someone stealing it. Never place outgoing mail in your mailbox for the carrier to pick up. Take your outgoing mail to the post office for delivery. If you are going away for any length of time, notify your local post office to hold your mail while you are away.

I suggest reading Stolen Mail and Your Identity and Dumpster Diving - What's in your trash can help them steal your precious name to further understand how identity thieves use your mail to assume your identity.

5. Secure Your Personal Documents.
Your personal documents contain personally identifiable information (PII). For those documents that you are required to keep, place them in a locked, secure place.

6. Shredding Your Mail and Personal Documents.
If you are serious about protecting your identity, then shredding your mail and any personal documents that you are not required to keep MUST be part of your strategy. Shredding your mail is absolutely essential to protecting your identity.

7. Tips to Secure Your Online Presence.
The internet is a great resource but securing your online presence is essential to your identity theft prevention strategy. My article will give you the tips that you need to secure your online presence.

8. Secure Your Computer.
If you are like most Americans, your computer holds personally identifiable information (PII). Therefore, it is important that your computer be secured. I suggest an excellent article, 5 Steps To Secure Windows XP Home written by Tony Bradley, the About Guide to Internet/Network Security. The article provides you the guidance that you need so that you can take steps to secure your Windows XP based computer.

9. Beware Of Shoulder Surfing.
When logging on to your computer, at the ATM, or doing anything else that you are entering a password or viewing personally identifiable information, be aware of your surroundings. Make sure that no one else can view this information.

10. Shop Online Merchants That You Know and Trust.
If you are shopping online, make sure that the site is secure. The URL or web address should begin with "https." It is also recommended that you use a low-limit credit card for your online purchases.

About Guide to Family Internet, Marcy Zitz, has an excellent article, Tips to Protect Yourself While Shopping Online that can help you in doing just that.

By Brian Koerner