Monday, June 2, 2008

Reduce Your Chances Of Identity Theft

Identity Theft is a worldwide epidemic. This is when we all start getting those emails that want to steal our secret codes and passwords. You know the ones: “Your Account Is About To Be Closed,” “There’s A Block On Your Account,”, “Congratulations – You’ve Won The Lottery (that you never entered).”and my favorite “Could You Help Me Claim My Funds?”. First and foremost, DON’T FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS IN THE EMAIL! If you think there might be a problem, access the account in question as you normally do on your PC and not with the link supplied in the phony email.

There are ways to reduce your chances of identity theft:

1. Understand debit card dangers: When it comes to fraud, debit cards carry much greater personal liability than credit cards, depending on how quickly you report the loss of the card. If you fail to report unauthorized use within 60 days of receiving your bank statements, you could lose all the money in the account and be held responsible for the amount of money that has been tapped from your line of credit.

2. Rethink check writing: That little slip of paper has way too much information. Some experts advise against check writing because it gives away your address, bank account number, signature and license number to complete strangers. On top of that, there’s no federal legislation to limit your liability for forged checks (each state has its own set of rules). Experts advise that you look into automating your bill paying.

3. Secure your mail: Your mailbox is a goldmine of information. Between bank statement, bills, and all those pre-approved credit card offers, your mailbox is loaded with personal data which identity thieves can use to easily apply for a credit card in your name. Unless you diligently check your credit report, you may never even know about it. One way to avoid this is to have your mailbox under lock and key, but most of us in Santa Clarita have our mailboxes at the curb in front of our house and the postman frowns on carrying dozens and dozens of keys around. The other solution is to have a rented mailbox, or to foil “dumpster-diving” thieves by buying a shredder and destroy documents before discarding.

4. Go virtual: For shopping online, there are “virtual” card numbers. These are randomly generated credit card numbers that are disposable and that on-line shoppers use once and throw away. It’s linked directly to your real credit card account so purchases show up on your monthly bill. The service is easy to use – and it’s FREE! All you need to do is register with companies offering the virtual card, and they are MBNA, Discover, and Citigroup.

5. Create an emergency identity kit: Would you know how to contact your credit card company in an emergency? Create an emergency kit that contains: your account number, expiration date, issuing company name, and emergency contact number for each card you own. While you’re at it, make copies of your driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate and passport and store them in a locked box or file cabinet, or a safe deposit box. I like the safe deposit box best, because this gives you protection in the event of a catastrophe such as fire, earthquake, etc.

This may all seem like a lot of unnecessary work, but if you’re ever the victim of identity theft – even just once – you’ll realize that it’s well worth the effort.

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