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Are You a Victim of Identity Theft?

By Philip Tirone

Do you know if someone has stolen your identity? Are they living the good life at your expense?

80 percent of people have errors on their credit reports. Most of these errors are a result of identity theft. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you may not be interested in using credit again. That’s the biggest mistake you can make! Use this as an opportunity to protect yourself and learn how to build your credit wisely.

Once a thief acquires your personal information, she or he can quickly steal your identity and suck your account(s) dry. This can be a devastating financial loss. Additionally, it takes a tremendous amount of time to correct these errors.

Hackers have infiltrated Target, Neiman Marcus, Johns Hopkins and many other organizations. Do you think they’re capable of stealing your information? Of course they are! Now, more than ever, you need to safeguard your personal information against scheming identify thieves. Don’t leave yourself open to identity theft. Be aware of the many ways identity theft might occur.

Dumpster diving. You may not dumpster dive but identify thieves will. This is one of the easiest ways to collect personal information. The credit card offers you discard without a thought can be used by dumpster divers to set up credit accounts in your name. Bank account statements that have your credit card number or banking information can be used to purchase items online or over the phone. To prevent this, purchase a shredder and shred all items containing your personal information.

Open-access mailboxes. If your mailbox does not lock or is an easily accessible community mailbox, beware of identity thieves snatching your mail and setting up bogus accounts in your name. Protect yourself from identity theft by putting a hold on your mail when away from home for extended periods of time.

Pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Guard your purse and bags. Never leave them unattended. If an identify thief has access to your credit card, driver’s license, and Social Security number, they will enjoy the good life at your expense. If possible, never, ever carry your Social Security card in your wallet.

Phishers and Phreakers. Be especially wary of phishers and phreakers. Phreakers are people who search for personal information by eavesdropping on telephone calls.  Phishers send cleverly disguised emails that ask you to provide personal account information. Using anti-virus software and a firewall is a good way to cut down on malignant attempts by criminals to access your information. Do not share your password with anybody and change it often to decrease the possibility someone may hack into your computer. Also watch out for spyware which can be installed on your computer without your consent. It can monitor your computer for personal information, such as credit card numbers.

Guard your Social Security number. Each person’s social security number is unique. If an identity thief gains access to your Social Security number, she or he can make financial decisions that can affect you for years. Do not give out your number unless you started the call and can confirm the identity of the person or company you are calling.

Check your credit report often. Obtain a free copy of your credit report yearly from all three credit bureaus. Your best weapon against identify theft is getting a copy of your credit report every three months. This allows you to immediately identify any suspicious information or other irregularities.

Another often overlooked important safeguard against identify theft is double-checking the purchases on your credit card as well as withdrawals from your bank account.

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