The first and most important thing you can do to become better prepared and protected against identity theft is to lose the attitude that ?it could never happen to you?. Identity theft is much more common than most people believe, and the belief that it won?t happen to you leaves you much more vulnerable than someone who actively takes steps to protect themselves against the crime. Identity thieves are able to obtain information they need to assume someone else?s identity- often with little effort.
Take Care to Protect Personal Information
Do you shred information before you throw it away? The easiest way for identity thieves to gather information to assume your identity is through the paperwork you throw in the trash. You may as well hand a thief your credit card, social security card and driver?s license if you?re throwing out (without shredding) credit applications, resumes, credit card and utility bill statements.
Sometimes thieves will intercept your incoming or outgoing mail by taking items from your mailbox. With enough information, perhaps gathered through various bank statements or credit card applications, the data can be pieced together by a thief to use your name to apply for loans and credit in your name. You may want to consider mailing documents from a post office mailbox rather than a personal mailbox- the little red flag you put up on your box to signal your mail carrier that you have mail waiting for pick up is also a signal for identity thieves of a potential victim!
Preventing Identity Theft
Other than shredding paperwork prior to throwing it away, there are a few other methods you can use in order to protect yourself against identity theft:
Cut credit cards into tiny pieces before throwing away, even if the card has expired, and throw the tiny pieces into more than one trash bag so even if one bag is found the card could not be put back together.
Report any stolen or lost credit cards immediately.
Destroy receipts, tax information, credit card applications, mortgage information or cancelled checks before throwing away- and keep such documents in files in a locked file cabinet inside your home. Don?t rule out the possibility of the babysitter or housekeeper or guests taking paperwork lying around your home.
Keep a close eye on your credit reports and credit card statements to watch for anything out of the ordinary, or transactions you know you didn?t make. Investigate anything suspicious immediately.
If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
Victims of identity theft often spend months or years trying to recover from the crime. Not only may it cost victims money, but their credit score is going to be ruined and will take work and time to repair. While the three major credit bureaus do have policies for fixing credit scores and reports after identity theft crimes have occurred, it does take a long time for the errors to be corrected and repaired.
Before the report and score is corrected, the victim is going to have a difficult time obtaining any sort of financing (from credit cards to student loans to car loans or mortgages). In some extreme cases, identity theft victims are even arrested for crimes they didn?t commit.
Being a victim of identity theft interrupts your life. It is far easier to take appropriate steps to protect yourself than it is to repair your credit reports and credit score after your identity has been stolen.
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