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Take Steps to Prevent Identity Theft

POSTED: March 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Identity theft is big business. In fact, each year, billions -- that's with a "b" -- of dollars are lost to identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
That figure may not mean that much to you, but if you are victimized for even a hundred dollars, it will be an upsetting and expensive experience. That's why you'll want to defend yourself, and the best time to take action is before you are victimized.
What can you do to protect yourself?
•  Secure your Social Security number. Identity thieves seek Social Security numbers. So don't give out yours to anyone who asks. Be reluctant to give it out to anyone. Always ask anyone you deal with if they will accept another form of ID, or, at least, if they will take just the last four digits of your number. And never carry your Social Security card with you.
• Shred credit card offers you're not applying for and any bank statements. Identity thieves have been known to rifle through garbage, fill out credit card offers and take advantage of them. At the same time, shred your bank and brokerage statements, and other statements with personal or financial information.
•  Study your credit card bills and checking account statements. Question any activity you don't recognize as your own.
• Don't give out your credit card number unless you initiate a purchase. Most of us shop online these days. As long as you're dealing with a reputable merchant who uses a secure site - one that has "https" in the web address - you should be reasonably confident your information will be protected. Never give out your credit card number to people or businesses who, unsolicited, try to sell you something over the phone or Internet.
• "Opt out" of credit card offers and other mailings. You can eliminate many of those "pre-approved" credit card offers by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) and following the prompts. You can also greatly reduce the amount of advertising, catalogues and other mailings you receive by going on the Direct Marketing Association's Web site (www.dmachoice.org) and following the "Remove My Name From Those Lists" link.
Even after taking these steps, you could still run into identity theft. That's why you need to be alert for certain signs, such as the arrival of unexpected credit cards or account statements, denials of credit for no apparent reason, or calls or letters regarding purchases you didn't make. If any of these things happen, you may want to place a "fraud alert" on your credit reports and review them carefully. To place a fraud alert, just contact one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies: Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at1-888-397-3742 or TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289.

Cardella is a financial consultant with Edward Jones in Hinesville.
 

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