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Identity Theft — Don't Become a Victim

Identity theft has become one of the fastest growing crimes in America. According to Javelin Strategy and Research, in 2011 identity fraud increased 13 percent and more than 11.6 million adults became victims of identity fraud in the United States. This unauthorized access to your personal information is used to open new financial accounts or access your existing accounts, enabling thieves to steal your money or charge items on your credit card, leaving you with the bills. But with a few common sense efforts, you can avoid becoming a victim.

Identity thieves are most interested in the personal information that would enable them to pass as you. This includes your Social Security Number, date of birth, mother's maiden name and existing account numbers at your financial institutions.

To keep your information private, here are some of the steps to consider:

  • Carry as few credit cards as possible and periodically check to make sure you still have them.
  • Avoid carrying your Social Security card and passport unless they are needed.
  • Never print your Social Security Number on your checks.
  • Shred all important papers that contain financial information before disposing of them.
  • Shred credit card and ATM receipts properly if they contain your account number.
  • Consider signing up for online statements and online bill pay to reduce the number of statements in your mailbox.
  • Sign new credit cards as soon you receive them.
  • Guard your PINs (personal identification numbers) carefully.
  • Make your PINs and passwords hard for someone else to guess. Don't use your birth date, phone number or last four digits of your social security number.
  • Keep a list of your credit card and financial account numbers with phone numbers in a safe place.
  • Guard against mail theft by mailing payments from the Post Office instead of raising the flag on your home mailbox. Even better, pay bills online.
  • Never give personal information over the phone unless you made the call or you know with whom you are speaking.
  • Review your financial and credit card statements carefully for unknown transactions. If you see one, call the institution immediately.
  • Periodically, order credit reports from the three major credit bureaus to check for fraudulent activity on your accounts.

While there are no guarantees that these steps will prevent identity thieves from attacking you, the harder you make it to steal your identity, the less likely you are to become an identity theft victim. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This document is designed to provide informative material and is distributed with the understanding that it does not constitute legal or professional advice. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy and interpretations are not guaranteed.