My personal information was stolen in 2004 and I have spent 4 years trying to protect my personal assets. I have developed a system to update my passwords, apply for free credit reports, and too monitor my accounts (to be published at a later date – sorry!). Each step was created in reaction to a step the criminals had taken and then I decided to become proactive and to beat them to the punch. Where ever they tried to break in, I was already there. Every account they called was already waiting for them.

Preventing ID Theft is so critical to your financial standing. Here are two very important things you should be doing to protect yourself.

Set up Passwords: Passwords, PIN’s, and secret codes are the only way to ensure that you various accounts are protected with good passwords (like any password, make it difficult to crack). All of your bank accounts, credit cards, and utilities should have a password for when you call to work on your account. If the caller does not have the password, the caller can not get any account or personal info. I call my bank and other accounts just to make sure the passwords are still working.

Get your Credit Report: Ordering and knowing how to read your credit report (to be discussed at a later date) is another way you can spot ID theft quickly. Basically, you can see whenever someone accesses your credit profile and why. You also get a great snapshot of all your personal information that is out in the public as well as all of your accounts that you have open and their status.

Criminals live in the real world as much as you and I do and they are all around us. In my experience, most of the fraud I have encountered was not on the internet but in the real world. Here are some more ways that identity thieves try to get your info and the ways you can stop them.

Missing Mail

The Scam: Believe it or not people actually go through mail boxes looking for particular bills. Monthly bills (cable, electric, etc…) are the prime targets to these thieves. Its easy to miss a monthly bill. Once they get the bill they start calling and pretending to be you. They have your name, address, account number, and some basic account info. The professionals can use that basic info to gather a few more pieces of information.

Prevention: This is a tough scam to prevent but if you pay attention to the bills you should be receiving, you can call your account holder and change some info to make it more difficult for the criminals gather your information.

Dumpster Diving

The Scam: Yes – criminals will actually dig through piles of garbage just for a few pieces of your identity. These people are professionals; they can make a lot happen with just a little bit of info.

Prevention: Get a very inexpensive paper shredder. Anything that goes into the trash with your name on it (envelopes, magazine covers, old bills, etc…) should be shredded. The thieves are not looking to piece together your info, they are looking for the easy score. As an added bonus you can then dispose of all the paper with your recyclable trash.

Receipts

The Scam: Charge a meal, use an ATM, buy a gift. Whatever it is, you will get a receipt. Criminals have figured out ways to get your info from a receipt even if your info is not on that receipt. Look at it from another perspective. When you return something with a receipt, the person at the register enters the receipt into the system and Viola!! All of your account info is now displayed right in front on their eyes!! All they need is a few pieces of info to then break all the way into your account. Once inside, they can destroy your credit and steal your money.

Prevention: Keep all of your receipts in a safe place (you may need them for tax purposes anyway) and if you decide to get rid of them, shred them in the new shredder you bought to dispose of your mail.

There are a variety of methods that criminals have developed to undermine the system in such a way that you would give away your personal identity without even being aware that you had done so. The only resolutions is one that I have repeated many times. Be Vigilant, Be Aware, and take all of the precautions. Once your ID is stolen, it is exposed for the rest of your life and even beyond. It can happen to you just like it did to me.

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