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PROTECT YOURSELF FROM IDENTITY THEFT

Identity thieves rob more than 500,000 Americans every year. These steps will help you reduce your risk of identity theft. the following are ten ways you can protect yourself from being one of them.

Guard Your Social Security number
The most important step is to guard your Social Security number -- it is the key to your credit report and banking accounts and is the prime target of criminals. Do not print your Social Security number on your checks. After applying for a loan, credit card, rental or anything else that requires a credit report, request that your Social Security number on the application be truncated or completely obliterated and your original credit report be shredded before your eyes or returned to you once a decision has been made. A lender or rental manager needs to retain only your name and credit score to justify a decision.

Monitor your credit report
Credit reports can alert you to activity in your financial records. A monitoring service, such as Privacy Guard, will notify you whenever someone applies for credit in your name or checks your credit history. You then can be proactive; call the person and ask, "Why are you checking my credit?" It might be a landlord or employer; it might be legitimate.

Now you can check your credit report online.
Look over your report carefully and make sure to correct any errors you find

Buy a shredder and use it
Identity thieves may use your garbage to obtain personal information. Shred all old bank and credit statements, as well as "junk mail" credit-card offers, before trashing them. Use a crosscut shredder -- they cost more than regular shredders but are superior.

Remove your name from marketing lists
The three credit-reporting bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- all maintain marketing lists that may contain your information. Contact the agencies to remove your name from the lists. You also should add your name to the name-deletion lists of the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service used by banks and other marketers. Removing your name from these lists reduces the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive.

Watch what you carry in your wallet
Do not keep your Social Security card in your wallet or carry extra credit cards or other important identity documents except when needed. These documents can give thieves ready access to your accounts.

 
Keep duplicate records
Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of your license and credit cards so you have all the account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers if your wallet or purse is stolen.

Mail payments from a safe location
Do not mail bill payments and checks from home. They can be stolen from your mailbox. Take them to the post office.

Monitor your Social Security activity
Order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once a year to check for fraud. Go to: https://www .ssa.gov/

Monitor your credit-card activity
Carefully examine your credit-card statements for fraudulent charges before paying them. If you don't need or use department-store or bank-issued credit cards, close the accounts.

Know who you are talking to
Never give your credit-card number or personal information over the phone unless you have initiated the call and trust that business.

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