By Sonali Bose Sengupta
Your identity is one of the most important personal possessions that you have. You may not realize or even be aware of it, but protecting your identity from unscrupulous identity thieves should be the top priority for you. More than 10 million Americans fall prey to identity theft annually, and by the time they realize it, they lose a lot of money and their credit standing, not to mention the hassle, shock and bother that go with it.
Identity thieves are on the prowl to get hold of various kinds of personal information like the Social Security numbers, bank account or email id passwords and a host of other data that could be of use to them in a plethora of fraudulent ways. Prevention is better than cure. Being armed with information and taking precautionary measures is a sign of prudence.
Here are a few tips to help you prevent identity theft:
·Social Security Number: Preserving your social security number is of prime importance as it is the primary source for your credit report. If this gets into the hands of identity thieves, they can use it to open and operate accounts under your name with disastrous consequences for you. Be careful never to leave your social security card carelessly about. It's better not to take it out in your wallet each time you go out, unless it is absolutely necessary. Storing it under lock and key or in a safe deposit box is actually a great idea.
·Online Transactions and Passwords: A lot of transactions, including banking transactions, are conducted by individuals online nowadays. Whether it is making a payment online, booking airline and travel tickets or making online purchases, online transaction modules have brought in great convenience and flexibility for consumers. However, indiscreet and careless use of online transaction portals is a huge source of identity theft. 'Phishing' is an online phenomenon where online fraudsters ask for your personal information, user ids and passwords, posing as genuine online portals. Once you part with this information, the mischief begins. To prevent these:
o Be careful not to click on pop-up ads and spam mails.
o Use firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spyware to secure online transactions.
o Ensure that online transactions are logged out of and any online shopping is done through secure and genuine vendors only.
o Hold information on your ids and passwords very close to your heart. Do not use your name or birth date as passwords as these can be easily hacked into. Make passwords a little complex, using alphanumeric characters. Never keep PIN numbers strewn about your house carelessly.
o Do not pass on sensitive information related to your ids and passwords even to your family members or close friends unless it's critically vital.
·Mailboxes: While it's best to have a dedicated post office box, it may not always be feasible. If you have an ordinary mailbox, remove mail and documents regularly. All personal mails with PINs, Social Security numbers or passwords must be shred finely and disposed of carefully so that identity thieves may not get hold of it. When you are away, ask the post office to hold your mail.
·Credit Cards: Be very careful about user ids and passwords or PINs. Any document with credit card PIN information must be finely shred and discarded. Also, ask for and scan credit reports regularly to detect any misuse or fraud. In any case, the moment you suspect any foul play involving your credit card, ask the issuing authority to freeze the credit or put it on a fraud alert. This will prevent any wrong use of the card. If the statements are delayed, check the same because the thieves may have altered the address.
·Personal belongings: When you are required to carry your wallet or handbag with the social security number or credit cards, be extra careful that your pocket is not picked or your wallet is not lost. Not everyone who picks up your wallet or handbag may have enough integrity to return it. So if it gets into wrong hands, your liability will not be limited only to the money you had in the wallet or handbag.
·Phone calls: Beware of crooks who may call you under assumed identities asking you for information pertaining to your identity. So not give out your credit information carelessly.
·Charities: Genuine charity organizations will provide you brochures and information. So, you need not worry about any information that you provide. Be wary of charities with suspect credentials that ask you for some identity related information.
·Identity Coverage: You can consider identity theft coverage programs like Identity Guard or Lifelock to help protect your identity and prevent hassles and bother in case your identity information security is ever compromised.
Preserving your identity is not only important, but also critical. You just cannot let your identity security and confidentiality be compromised. A few precautions as mentioned here could go a long way in preventing identity theft. Be safe, be secure!
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