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Identity Theft — Don't Become a Victim

Are Identity Theft and Fraud really something you should be worried about, or is it just a lot of hysterical hoo-ha?

According to a new study by Javelin Strategy and Research, which has been tracking ID theft statistics for nearly a decade, it is something you should take very seriously indeed. In 2013,13.1 million consumers suffered identity fraud – an increase of half a million over 2012. That’s one American every two seconds. It’s commonly held that, given enough time, each of us will eventually fall prey to ID thefts (and that includes Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who was himself a victim.) The U.S. Department of Justice defines Identity Theft and Fraud as “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.” Identity thieves are interested in any personal information that would enable them to pass as you. This includes things as seemingly benign as your child’s date of birth, favorite pet or mother’s maiden name.

You can Protect Yourself by Taking the Following Steps:

• When transmitting personal or financial information online, do it at home under a secure Internet connection. Hotspots are NOT your friend.

• Avoid carrying your Social Security card and passport unless they are needed – and consider stashing a minimum number of credit cards in your wallet.

• Shred all documents that contain financial information before disposing of them. This includes credit card and ATM receipts that show your account number.

• Sign up for online statements and bill pay to reduce opportunities for thieves to target your mailbox.  According to experts, online bill pay is safer because, unlike a mailed check, payment information is encrypted during transmission.

• Set up “suspicious activity alerts” that authorize your bank to notify you via e-mail and/or mobile

• If you can, arrange for direct deposit of your payroll checks.

• Sign new credit cards as soon you receive them. Keep a list of your credit card and financial account numbers with phone numbers in a safe place (such as a bank safe deposit box).

• Guard your PINs and passwords vigilantly. Change them often and make them hard for someone else to guess. (The more characters a PIN or password has the harder it is to crack. The best ones use combinations of numbers and upper and lowercase letters.) If you’re worried about forgetting them, use one of the free or minimally priced password managers now available.

• 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 unexpected transactions. Better yet, create an online account and monitor it frequently. If you see something suspicious, call the institution immediately.

• Periodically, order credit reports from the three major credit bureaus to check for fraudulent activity on your accounts. (Rotating among them can get you free reports aslong as you don’t use the same agency more than once in a year.)

• Report any suspicious activities immediately by contacting your bank, credit provider and/or protection services provider.

While there are no guarantees that these steps will prevent identity thieves from targeting you, the harder you make it to steal your ID, the more likely they are to look elsewhere. This is truly a case where 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 other 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 interpretation are not guaranteed.