I'm Still Me...Right?

One of the scariest crimes in the world today is identity theft - someone steals your personal information and uses it for their own benefit. Posing as you, they can take your money, commit other crimes and wreak havoc on an unsuspecting life.

Identity thieves look through trash, send phishing e-mails, use credit card devices and simply steal pocketbooks just to take those personal names and numbers. Once they have them they can open credit card accounts, begin cell phone accounts, have counterfeit checks made and even empty bank accounts. They can even have a driver's license made with their picture and someone else's name, just because they now have the documentation they need.

As sobering as this information is, there are so many easy ways to protect yourself against identity theft. Some may seem time consuming and overreactions, but if you want to stay you...take the time!

1. Shred everything. Never throw away documents that have your Social Security number, address, e-mail address or bank accounts on them without shredding them first. If there's a question in your mind about whether it's necessary to shred it, look it over and ask yourself if you want Mr. Stranger to know that information. If not...shred away.

2. Don't share personal info online. Don't think it's safe to put your address or phone number on those social-networking sites. You honestly have no idea "who can do what" on them and who might be reading. If someone wants them, they'll get them.

3. Lock up your SS card. There's really no reason to carry it with you unless you're getting a new ID card. Keep it securely locked away at home instead of carrying it in your purse. Only give out the number if absolutely necessary.

4. Be aware of strange e-mails. Our e-mail inbox is constantly receiving phishing messages from companies that want to steal information. There are the e-mails from banks we don't use saying we've lost access to our account. All we have to do is type in some personal info and we'll be restored. If you don't read closely and notice that they have no idea who you are, you can send all kinds of things that thieves can easily use for their personal gain.

5. Know your financial schedules. If your bills don't arrive on time, you receive bills that don't add up or you learn about purchases you didn't make, it's too late to protect yourself. You check the mailbox and e-mail everyday - check your bank account and PayPal accounts daily, too.

6. Hide your PIN. It may look silly, but cover up the keypad while you're typing in your PIN at the checkout counter. I know of people who've noticed others watching them while they do it, trying to figure out the number. This scares me! Once they have that number they can easily hack your accounts.

7 Hang up on those weird phone calls. People who phone from "the bank" wanting personal information are thieves. You shouldn't receive calls asking anything if your information is on file. Don't give out anything about yourself over the phone - tell them you'll visit the branch the next day.

8. Know who has access to your information. At work, at home, at the doctor's office and on the computer, many hands may touch your information every day. Find out exactly who has access to YOU and how they use what they know. Secure handling procedures may not be used unless you specifically ask for them.


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