How to Prevent Identity Theft: Simple Ways to Protect Yourself

By: Yo Fujikawa

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. One out of every four households will be plagued by this crime and a new victim's freedom and privacy will be compromised every 4 seconds. Thankfully, preventing identity theft from creating havoc in your life is not as hard as it sounds.

The most important thing is to understand identity theft and how it occurs. Contrary to popular belief, most identity thieves are not computer hackers. Less than 12% of the identity crimes that take place actually originate online. Instead, thieves use your garbage, stolen credit cards, and other traditional methods to access your personal information and assume your identity.

Preventing identity theft from occurring is the only way to protect yourself from this emotionally and financially devastating crime. Most victims are not even aware that their identity was stolen until they are denied credit, housing, or employment because of the crime and less than 5% of the thieves are actually arrested, leaving victims to spend hundreds of hours, not to mention thousands of dollars, to repair the damage on their own.

Protect yourself from the horrors of identity theft with these simple tips:

Guard your personal data. Avoid giving your social security or bank account numbers to people you don't know. Never give out information over the phone or computer unless you initiated the contact. Keep credit cards, account numbers, pins, and passwords in a safe place at home.

Invest in a shredder. A small home office paper shredder is a must if you hope to prevent identity theft. Shred bank statements, pre-approved offers, and other sensitive documents before throwing them away. It's a good idea to opt out of special credit offers that come in the mail.

Protect your mailbox. Make a habit of mailing checks and other personal data directly from the post office rather than leaving it in your home mailbox and try to check your mail as quickly as possible to prevent mail theft, a common method for identity thieves.

Avoid using checks, whenever possible. Not only is all the personal data a criminal needs to assume your identity printed right on the face of your check, your bank account number and the bank routing number are in plain view. This is an ideal opportunity for a thief.

The best way to prevent identity theft is to stay active and aware. Review your bank accounts and credit card statements each month for any suspicious activity and immediately investigate anything that may seem odd. Watch for your statements to come in the mail and contact your financial institution if it is not received on time. Many banks offer electronic statements that can help you protect yourself. A Credit Monitoring Service can save you time and trouble by continuously monitoring and reviewing your credit reports for you and notifying you of any changes, new accounts, or other activity not initiated by you.

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