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How to Prevent Identity Theft

by Shawanda Greene

If you have a clean criminal background and a good credit history, you want to keep it that way. Meanwhile, criminals aim to steal your identity, use it to get credit cards, swindle the IRS out of tax refunds, and let you handle the consequences.

Dealing with identity theft is costly and time-consuming. According to TransUnion.com, the average identity theft victim spends an roughly $500 and 30 hours trying to resolve the crime.

Protect your reputation by taking a few extra steps to keep your personal information safe.
Cartoon burglar

Keep Your Friends Close

One study found that 32% of victims had their identity stolen by a relative and 18% had theirs stolen by a friend, neighbor, or in-home relative. Watch the people who are close to you.

Limit Social Network Sharing

An identity thief may easily find the answers to security questions on your social networking profiles. For example, you may have shared any of these: your mother’s maiden name, the city you were born in, your favorite movie, etc.

When you choose security questions, think about whether you’ve posted the answer on the internet such as a Facebook or LinkedIn profile.

Review your social networking profiles, and remove the answers to security questions you’ve already chosen.

Sharing Info Via Email and Phone

Never give personal information to individuals or companies who contact you via email or telephone. Don’t reply to the company using any of the contact information provided in the email, and do NOT click on any of the links. Additionally, don’t give out personal information over the phone to companies who call you.

I used to receive daily emails that seemed to be from Paypal. I knew they were fraudulent. If I were ever legitimately concerned that my PayPal account was locked or compromised, I’d visit the site directly by typing “PayPal.com” into the address bar of my web browser.

Shred Important Documents

Invest in a shredder that cross-cuts documents. Shred every document that has your personal information on it.

Check to see if any of your local public services offers shredding services. My county offers a free, secure paper shredding service to residents once a month. The service is provided through the county’s trash and recycling center.

Stop Credit Card Offers

Credit card offers put you at risk of identity theft. For example, a thief could steal offers from your mailbox, apply for the card, and intercept the card when it comes.

You can opt out of pre-screened credit and insurance offers by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT or visiting OptOutPrescreen.com.

Cancel Compromised Accounts

You need to be able to report and replace lost credit cards and other personal items as quickly as possible. However, it’s hard to do this since the information you need is on the stolen items.

Make a copy of the front and back of each item in your wallet and store the copies in a secure location, like a safe deposit box. Then, use copies to help contact your credit card issuers, etc. to cancel your account before thieves can do much damage.

Freeze Your Credit Report

You can keep thieves from opening any account that requires a credit check by placing a freeze on your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion credit reports. The freeze can only be removed, e.g. when you need to apply for credit, when you provide a PIN (personal identification number) that you’ve selected.

If you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, the credit freeze is free. Otherwise, the price of a credit freeze varies by state.

Monitor Your Credit

Monitor your credit to catch identity theft before it gets too serious. Manually monitor your credit report (for free) through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Request and review a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus every four months (instead of all at once). For instance, order Experian in January, Equifax in May, and TransUnion in September.

Or, sign up for Credit Karma Credit Monitoring for free. You don’t need to provide your credit card information to register for a Credit Karma account.

Credit Karma’s credit monitoring service watches your TransUnion credit report and sends an email if there are significant changes to your TransUnion credit report.

They say “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Spending just a little time preventing identity theft will keep you from spending hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours clearing your name.



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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Call Me What You Want Even Cheap August 9, 2012 at 8:31 AM

A thief can steal many things from a mailbox with personal information. It’s also important to check your mailbox frequently. A stuffed mailbox indicates that no one is home and could be a sign for a thief to not only steal your mail but break into your house and steal more personal information to steal your identity. Have a neighbor check your mailbox if you’ll be away.
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Shawanda Greene August 13, 2012 at 9:22 PM

I hate checking my mailbox. It gets so packed sometimes I can barely open it. Fortunately, I live in an apartment building so only the mailman and I know my dirty secret.
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Stephanie @ Empowered Dollar August 9, 2012 at 8:53 AM

You only need one account hacked for the rest of your digital life to be ruined. I’ve read horror stories about people having their Gmail hacked, and the hackers then ask for “password requests” sent to the email. They can delete or damage your website, social media networks, bank accounts… you name it. I’ve created a double set of log-in protection on my email account. If an unauthorized computer accesses my email, Gmail will text me a code to my cell phone.
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Shawanda Greene August 13, 2012 at 9:37 PM

I just tried to set up double verification on my Gmail account. I don’t see the link Google is referring to. I hate it when a process that should only take minutes sucks up my time. I’ll have to go back to that later. Soooo frustrating.
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Shawanda Greene August 13, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Okay I figured it out. Thanks for the tip!

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Daisy @ Add Vodka August 9, 2012 at 10:22 AM

Woah, that’s crazy that friends/family would steal identities.. I would never have thought that. Scary stuff! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my identity stolen.
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Shawanda Greene August 13, 2012 at 9:47 PM

I can believe it. I know quite a few people who’ve used their children’s (their actual kids . . . like minor children) identities to open accounts.
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Ornella @ Moneylicious August 9, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Great tips! I would add when you are at an ATM machine (or other card swiping devices) that you don’t recognize, avoid using it. Check the atm to make sure nothing is peeling off or looks out of place. You would be amazed how people can get your pin number and ATM/Debit card info.
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Shawanda Greene August 13, 2012 at 9:58 PM

Those crafty crooks. You never can be to careful.
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Untemplater August 10, 2012 at 2:05 AM

It’s so annoying all the things we have to do these days to avoid scammers and hackers. I used Optoutprescreen but I still had to call several companies who continued to mail offers. They seem to have finally stopped though!
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Shawanda Greene August 13, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Yeah it is. And we still stand a decent risk of having our identities stolen.
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