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Avoiding Identity Theft

posted Dec 11, 2016, 2:34 PM by Resty Manapat

In addition to being one of the biggest shopping months of year, December is also Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month. 

Because an increasing number of people shop online in addition to traditional means, it is critical consumers know how to help protect themselves from identity thieves. These attacks not only can ruin the holiday shopping experience, but have disastrous and long-lasting effects on credit and bank accounts long after the holidays have passed. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that more than 17 million U.S. residents age 16 or older were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014. 

Fraud is increasing at a rapid speed.  Below are some tips created by the Federal Trade Commission that can help consumers avoid such an unfortunate event, especially around the holiday season. 

Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. 

Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. 

Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child's school, or a doctor's office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing. 

Shred receipts, credit applications and offers, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer. 

Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products. 

Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail. 

Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. 

Before you dispose of a mobile device, check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device. 

Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online. 

Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank, and other accounts. Be creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to see the Pacific Ocean” could become 1W2CtPo. 

If you post too much information about yourself via social media, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites. 

Keep a close hold on your Social Security number and ask questions before deciding to share it. If someone asks you to share your SSN or your child’s, ask 

Why they need it 

How it will be used 

How they will protect it 

What happens if you don’t share the number 

Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often. 

Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type. 

Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected. 

Keep financial information on your laptop only when necessary. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished.

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