New tips to protect against identity theft

Tips to prevent identity theftYou'd be surprised how little information is needed about you before a criminal can build up a new identity in some tropical paradise, complete with house, mortgage, yacht and fancy clothes. The glamorous story doesn't look so great when the authorities come knocking on your door to make you pay up, or worse, face jail time, because the fraudster skipped out on paying the bills.

Here are some tips that can save you time, money and aggravation to avoid becoming another identity theft statistic.

1. Shred every scrap of paper that contains financial information. This means anything with your name, address, phone numbers, e-mail accounts or any sort of account information on it. That includes junk mail and unsolicited credit card applications, which often contain personalized information. Open every envelope addressed to you and tear off any personal information before tossing the rest in the bin.

2. Only use ATMs at bank branch locations. Be sure to screen the keypad with one hand when you use an ATM. Stand-alone ATMs at bars, corner stores and on the street are not trusted to be secure. Yes, these non-branch ATMs may be monitored, but likely by crooks, not security officers.

3. If your home mailbox doesn't lock properly, have mail sent to your workplace. A crook can scoop the mail out of all the boxes faster than you can walk down the hall or sidewalk to check your own.

4. Don't answer personal questions over the phone. If the caller refuses to leave you a name and phone number, hang up. No legitimate business would refuse leaving such details.

5. When out in public, hide your paper items. This means keeping addressed envelopes in a larger manila envelope until they are ready to be mailed. Filled in bank deposit slips contain particularly sensitive details, including exact deposit information. The bad guy could be reading them over your shoulder.

6. Keep your social insurance and driver's licence numbers to yourself. Better yet, leave your social insurance card in a safe place at home. There's no need to have it with you on a daily basis, and most people have their number memorized anyway.

7. On social networking sites, set privacy settings as high as you can. That goes for sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Ning. Don't use your full real name or your real birth date.

These tips will go a long way toward protecting you and your family from the embarrassment, time and expense of trying to rebuild a stolen identity.

Written by Melanie Dixon.
Published April 15, 2010

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