We're all worried about identity theft and how it might affect us. It seems like even an IRS audit isn't as devastating as identity theft could be. Luckily, it's not that difficult to protect your identity if you're vigilant and a little bit careful. Here are some steps to prevent identity theft to get you started down the road to safety.
Contrary to popular opinion, most identity theft actually takes place offline, in the real world. The Internet only accounts for about 11% of all identity thefts in the U.S. Most thefts are credit card thefts followed by banking accounts such as checking or savings.
The first thing you need to do when taking steps to prevent identity theft is to limit the number of credit and debit cards you carry. Most people aren't aware that credit cards are actually much better protected than debit cards are in the event of theft. With a credit card, you are only liable, by law, for $50. With a debit card, you could stand to lose everything in your account.
Limiting the number of cards you carry makes you less of a target and lowers the amount you stand to lose if you are robbed, mugged, or have your pocket picked. The fewer cards you have with you, the less they can steal. It's as simple as that. One step further is to make sure you don't have records of PIN or other identifiers with you as well.
The next thing you should consider doing is freezing or locking your credit profiles at the credit bureaus. The three bureaus are required, by law, to allow customers to freeze their accounts so that no new credit can be added without express permission and no companies can look into a credit profile without permission. This makes it so that only you and those you currently have credit relationships (banks, credit cards, mortgage lender, etc.) can access your profile. Even then, only you can access it to do anything other than update records (mark payments received, amounts owed, etc.).
This has two advantages for your safety: it removes the ability for thieves to access your full credit profile and it stops your receiving of "pre-approved" credit applications in the mail. Both of these are big conduits for credit fraud and identity theft, so closing them down is important.
Another of the good steps to prevent identity theft is to get a Post Office box or the equivalent. These locked, secure mailboxes will keep your incoming mail safe from theft. A popular way for identity thieves to get information is to steal mail, especially bills and credit statements. Having a locked, secure box prevents this. Have your bills, checks, and other information-containing mail sent to this secure box.
On the reverse side of that coin, when you send out your bill payments and other identifiers, don't use non-secure mailboxes to post them. Put this mail in the locked, blue Post Office boxes on the curb or take them directly to the Post Office to mail. The box in front of your house or the outbox at your work is probably not safe.
Last but not least, when shopping or doing business online that involves your personal information or credit card numbers, make sure that the people you're doing business with are legitimate. Look at the address bar in your browser, before you enter that credit card number on the screen, and make sure that the URL (address) begins with "https." That "s" means "secure."
Then look down at the bottom right hand corner of your browser (off the Web page). There should be a closed padlock symbol. That icon means that your browser is securely connected to the website in question. This is an SSL or Secure Socket Link. Not to get too complicated, but that means that a strong, 128-bit encryption algorithm has been established between the website and your browser. These two indicators show you that you're on a site that's verified themselves and their commitment to privacy.
Finally, be aware that you are a possible target of identity theft. This awareness will keep you vigilant in protecting yourself from theft. The steps to prevent identity theft are simple, straight forward, and made up almost entirely of common sense measures. That is the most important part of protecting yourself from identity theft risks. Who knew? Just being more aware makes you safer!
You can find more information on keeping yourself safe by clicking this link - Avoiding Identity Theft
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