If you’re like most people, you have at least one New Year’s Resolution you have committed to keep in 2008 to improve your quality of life. Lose weight. Go to the gym. Stop smoking. Allow me to offer one additional resolution that can help you stay true to all of those others: Resolve to protect yourself against the nation’s fastest growing crime of identity theft. You might wonder at first how doing this will help you keep your other resolutions. But trust me, if you find out that someone has obtained your personal information, you’ll be more inclined to reach for that bowl of ice cream for comfort, or buy that pack of cigarettes to calm your nerves. And forget about going to the gym; you’ll be too busy contacting your creditors. Here are some very simple things you can do to help protect yourself from identity theft in 2008 and beyond. Paper Protection • Invest in a shredder. This may be the most important suggestion of all. Many people unwittingly leave a gold mine of information in their trash in the form of discarded credit card offers, old bank and credit card statements, etc. Make a small investment in your protection and buy a small personal paper shredder.
• Protect your mail. Stealing mail is another way that identity thieves obtain your personal information. Consider buying a lockable mailbox or installing a mail slot if your current mailbox is unsecured. If your mail suddenly stops coming, call the post office immediately.
• Limit what you share. Some people give away their info when they don’t need to by writing information on checks they write. Do not print your Social Security Number, phone number, date of birth or credit card account number on your checks, and never give your SS# to a merchant unless you are establishing credit. Credit cards and bank accounts • Deactivate old credit cards. Speaking of establishing credit, be sure to close down any credit card accounts you have not used and don’t plan to use. These are easy targets for identity thieves once they have your personal information. • Account Activity Notifications – Some banks and credit cards offer a service that allows you to be automatically notified by phone or email of any charges, withdrawals or transfers over a set dollar amount you determine.
• Monitor your credit and all monthly billing statements – monitor your credit report on a regular basis. If you find a change of address you did not initiate or accounts you did not apply for, check out Experian’s Fraud Center or call 1-888-397-3742 and request a copy of your personal credit report.
Online Protection • Don’t fall for email scams. Don’t respond to email requests or solicitations that ask you for personal information, such as bank account numbers or your Social Security Number. More than likely it is a scam, even if it looks like it is coming from a legitimate company. Scammers know how to make their scams look authentic. • Safe payment online. When making a purchase online, stick with companies you are familiar with, not a no-name company that offers a slightly lower price. Also consider using an online merchant that allows you to use a 3rd party payment method, such as Pay Pal. By using that method, the online merchant never gets your credit card information. By following these simple rules and using common sense, you can help protect yourself against identity theft, allowing you to keep your attention on other things, like keeping those New Year’s Resolutions.
Warren C. Evans is Wayne County Sheriff.
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