I am going to discuss this topic every so often to reinforce the importance of keeping our Personal Identity safe. The holiday season is an easy time to let your guard down and all it takes is one mistake to ruin your financial freedom. There really are people out there trying to steal your identity and they will use it against you. Take this issue very seriously.

Here are a few tips (many of which I will expand upon at a later time) to help you keep your identity secure.

- Put passwords on all of your accounts. Bank Account, Credit Cards, Cell Phone, and any account where a representative may have access to your personal records. Do not use the last 4 of your SSN, your birth date, or childrens’ names. Remember - you are trying to keep your identity safe.

- Do not carry your extra credit cards, Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport in your wallet or purse except when necessary. This practice minimizes the amount of information a thief can steal. Photocopy everything in your wallet so if it is stolen you know exactly who to call. (Don’t keep this list in your wallet; keep it in a VERY safe place at home.)

- Do not click on links in any emails you receive from financial institutions - even if you’re 100% sure they’re legitimate. Instead, go to your browser and type in the domain name of the institution (e.g. www.wellsfargo.com or www.paypal.com) and then log in to your account. Some emails you receive about your financial accounts are actually fake and are called “phishing” emails.

- Take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container.

- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended at work or in church, restaurants, health fitness clubs, parties, or shopping carts. Never leave your purse or wallet in open view in your car, even when your car is locked.

- Destroy all checks immediately after you close a checking account. Destroy or keep in a secure place any courtesy checks that your bank or credit card company sends to you.

- Reconcile your check and credit card statements in a timely fashion, and challenge any purchases you did not make. This does 3 things for you:
1. It helps you ensure that no fraudulent charges have been made on your account.
2. It makes you review your financial standing every month.
3. You have a very limited time frame to dispute any charges.

- Limit the number of credit cards you have, and cancel any inactive accounts.
Never give any credit card, bank, or Social Security information to anyone by telephone, even if you made the call, unless you can positively verify that the call is legitimate. This is hard to do, but be vigilant. Do not trust anyone that calls you.

- Do not allow your financial institution to print your Social Security number on your personal checks.

- Safeguard your credit, debit, and ATM card receipts. Shred them before discarding.

- Scrutinize your utility and subscription bills to make sure the charges are yours.

- Do not toss pre-approved credit offers in your trash or recycling bin without first shredding them. Dumpster divers use these offers to order credit cards in your name and mail them to their address. Always do the same with other sensitive information like credit card receipts, phone bills, and such. If you don’t receive your billing statement, notify the company immediately.

- Get your credit report from a credit bureau at least once a year. Go to Equifax; TransUnion; or Experian to get free credit report. Review it carefully and call them if you think you have a problem. Note - you only have to order your report from one agency; the other 2 have to comply and send a copy to you as well.

If you believe someone has stolen your identity or has attempted to steal it, contact your financial institution immediately and change your account numbers. Seems a little over the top, but in the long run it’s worth it.

Again, none of these tips are guaranteed to prevent identity theft. You just want to make it more difficult for someone to steal your identity.