Identity Theft

Is all around us. It's becoming so prevalent that I'm doing a group project on creating distance learning about it, and my employer had a sheriff come talk to us today on the subject.

The magazine subscription bullshit is identity theft, albeit one that hasn't done much but annoy me. (And at that, it's at the point that I rip the address labels off them and leave them on the counter at the post office when I pick up my mail-someone will enjoy them.) Still, it's theft, presenting oneself as me, Ed or the boys to the magazine companies.

But, there are other, scarier forms of theft. Credit card skimming, which can happen when your card is taken by the server at the restaurant, as well as when you pay by credit/debit card at the gas station or use an ATM.

This year, the IRS reports that many social security numbers are being hijacked and W2's fraudulently accessed to get returns. The real owner of the number goes to file their return and boom, they get a message that someone else has already filed under that number.

So, how can you protect yourself? Good question, because there are ways you can:

*Shred all paperwork with any identifying information. If you don't have a home shredder, check with your employer if you can use theirs. (Mine is fine with us shredding personal documents.)

*Let your bank and credit card companies know when you're traveling outside your state or the country. Keeping those lines open help them to better watch your patterns of use to protect you. (My credit union is AWESOME about calling me about strange spending outside my norms.)

*Use the free annual credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. I'm purposely not hyperlinking them so that you CAREFULLY type those links in yourself. Spell carefully and make sure you've got the legit site before requesting your information. Then, stagger your requests so that you get one from each agency every 4 months.

*If you can, opt for a locking mailbox. Check with your letter carrier which one works best for them and is post office approved. Better yet, get a Post office box. Don't put outgoing mail in your mailbox. Thieves love pulling mail out when you have that red flag up to tell them there are outgoing bills, etc.

*Switch to online bill payment wherever possible.

*Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-888-5optout

*If you get a call from your bank that you did not initiate and they are requesting information, let the caller know you will call them back. From experience, my CU's fraud department will only ask me to verify info, not give them new info. For instance, the cafeteria at work punched in the wrong CVV number repeatedly when I bought french fries. I got back to my desk and my phone was ringing. I had to verify my last three purchases.

*Change your passwords regularly (90 days to no more than six months). Don't make them your pet's name, your birthday or anything super easy for anyone who knows you to figure out. Use numbers to replace s0m3 le77ers. If it's hard for you to keep track, use the same one, but change it by adding a 1, next a 2, then a 3, etc.

*Don't have your date of birth, drivers license number or social security numbers put on your checks.

There's a lot more to keeping your information safe, but those are all easy to do and go a long way towards protecting you.

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