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5 Tips for Protecting Your Identity

Protect Your Credit

If you carry your wallet in your purse, you are inviting theft whenever you put your purse down and get distracted in stores, restaurants, or at work. Many of us have more credit cards than we need, and carry all of our cards around with us daily. It's smart to limit the number of credit cards in your name, and to carry only the credit and debit cards that you actually need when you go out. Some hotels are reporting that thieves who get into a room often steal only one card from a wallet or purse, leaving the rest of the contents intact. That means it may take the victim longer to realize the theft—giving the thief more time to make charges to the card.

When you fill out credit card applications, be consistent about how you write your name and address—they should be exactly the same for each line of credit. If you are moving to a new address, contact all of your creditors in advance of moving day, so that none of your statements gets delivered to your old address. Close out unused credit cards—shredding them is not enough. If one of your cards expires and you haven't received a new one, contact the card company immediately.

To minimize damage if a card is stolen, write down the account number and company contact information for each card, and keep the information in a secure place at home. If a credit card is lost or stolen, you can access all the numbers you need to report it to the company. Don't wait even one hour to report a missing card; if you report the loss before any charges are made, you will not have to pay the $50 liability fee for charges made unlawfully.

Even if an actual card hasn't been stolen, your credit card numbers can be fraudulently used, so it's wise to read through every credit card statement and report any charges you do not recognize.

You are entitled by law to three free credit reports every year—start taking advantage of this service at AnnualCreditReport.com, and keep an eye on your credit. You can stagger these three reports throughout the year in order to get one free credit report every four months.

Protect Your Social Security Number

Your Social Security card and number are the ultimate prize for the identity thief, so guard them closely. Never have your SSN printed on your personal checks, and never use even a portion of the number in any password. Don't give out the number without question, and don't let it be used to identify you unless absolutely necessary.

Your Social Security card should be locked up at home, and the number should not appear on your driver's license. If it does, you can contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state and request a different number. If an organization customarily uses SSNs as ID or policy numbers, ask whether another number can be substituted. If they insist on using your SSN, ask what safeguards are in place to protect it.

Remember: a stolen Social Security card and/or number could mean months of aggravation, compromised credit, and mounting lawyer's fees.


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