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How to Avoid Identity Theft–Online or Offline

Instances of identity theft continue to rise. The Better Business Bureau estimates that identity theft causes $2 billion in losses every year. In 2002, government estimates noted approximately 30 percent of U.S. citizens were or would be victims of identity theft to some degree. Learn to protect yourself, your credit, your possessions and your employment by guarding against this potentially devastating crime.

Documents
Once you no longer need those receipts or bills, don’t simply throw them away. Purchase an inexpensive shredder that hangs over a trash can and shred them. Include envelopes, canceled checks and credit card receipts. Include notepad paper and sticky notes as well. When the can gets full, take the shredded paper to a recycling center.

Keep sensitive documents secured in a locked drawer, wall safe or fire safe while you need them. Don’t keep them longer than required, however. The longer they lie around, the greater the chance of them being casually discarded or stolen.

Mail
Always shred junk mail and credit card applications you did not specifically request. Identity thieves love trash cans.

Get a private mail box for mail delivery. If that isn’t possible, have a trusted neighbor remove your mail from the box shortly after it’s delivered. Be sure to give them a Power of Attorney to do so to protect them against mail theft allegations.

Stop home mail delivery if gone for even one delivery day. The post office will gladly deliver it when you are home again; just don’t forget to restart delivery.

ID and Credit Cards
Keep your driver’s license and your bank and credit cards separate from your wallet or billfold. While carrying them in the compartments and slots may be handy, they are also figurative ‘sitting ducks’ for pickpockets.

Keep them bound together with a rubber band and put them instead in a pocket or pouch and carry them on your person.

Should they get lost or stolen, immediately notify law enforcement and the credit card companies.

When purchasing something online, take care to ensure the site is SSL certified. That heightened security protects the transmittal of your card information against redirection or theft. Take special care to hide the screen from others when you enter your personal information and your credit card information.

Quick cell phone photos or concentrated scanning can capture enough of your data to potentially steal your identity or your credit card.

Sole Use
Never lend anyone your credit card–even if you trust the person. That person may not directly steal your information, but someone else may steal it from the receiver.

Additional Protection Tools
Periodically review your credit report. Familiarize yourself with what is noted. Verify each legitimate listing. Quick detection of incorrect or unauthorized use is paramount in protecting your financial future.

Most banks offer identity theft protection programs. If affordable, enroll in one as quickly as possible to help prevent a thief from destroying your finances and your reputation. If necessary, hire a professional firm to resolve the identity theft issue.

If you find that your identity has been stolen or suspect that it might have been, contact law enforcement, your bank, the credit card companies and the credit reporting agencies. You are allowed a 120-word dispute on each entry on the credit reports.

Summary
Whether offline or online, protect your personal information and your credit cards. It’s always easier to prevent theft than it is to recover from it.

    About the Author:
    JC Ryan is a freelance writer for MyCollegesandCareers.com.
    My Colleges and Careers helps people determine if an online education is right for them and helps them understand which online courses, they can choose from to reach their goals. My Colleges and Careers also provides information on culinary arts schools.

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