Take Steps to Pre­vent Iden­tity Theft

Calhoun Times - - OPINION/COMMENT - De­wayne Bowen

Iden­tity theft is a big prob­lem. How big? Con­sider this: In 2015, about 13 mil­lion Amer­i­cans were vic­tim­ized, with a to­tal fraud amount of $ 15 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Javelin Strat­egy & Re­search. That’s a lot of vic­tims, and a lot of money. How can you pro­tect your­self from be­com­ing a statis­tic?

Here are a few sug­ges­tions:

• Se­cure your So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber. Iden­tity thieves ea­gerly seek So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers — so don’t give out yours to any­one who asks for it. In fact, as a gen­eral rule, be re­luc­tant to give it out at all. Al­ways ask whomever you’re deal­ing with if he or she will ac­cept another form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, or at the very least will take just the last four dig­its of your num­ber. And never carry your So­cial Se­cu­rity card with you.

• Shred credit card of­fers and bank state­ments. If you’re not go­ing to ap­ply for the credit cards of­fered to you, shred the of­fers. Iden­tity thieves have been known to go through garbage, fill out credit card of­fers and take ad­van­tage of them. At the same time, shred your bank and bro­ker­age state­ments – and any other state­ment con­tain­ing per­sonal or fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion.

• Study your credit card bills and check­ing ac­count state­ments. Ques­tion any credit card charge or check­ing ac­count ac­tiv­ity you don’t rec­og­nize as your own.

• Don’t give out your credit card num­ber un­less you’re ini­ti­at­ing a pur­chase. Many of us shop on­line. As long as you’re deal­ing with a rep­utable mer­chant who uses a se­cure site — i. e., one that has “https” in the web ad­dress — you should be fairly con­fi­dent that your credit card in­for­ma­tion will be pro­tected. Never give out your credit card num­ber to peo­ple or busi­nesses who, un­so­licited, try to sell you some­thing over the phone or In­ter­net.

• Pro­tect your pass­words. Do you use a pass­word to log onto your com­puter? If so, don’t share it with any­one, out­side per­haps your most trusted fam­ily mem­bers. And use a strong pass­word – one that doesn’t con­tain your real name or even a com­plete word that could be used to iden­tify you. Also, it doesn’t hurt to pe­ri­odi- cally change your pass­word, whether it’s for your com­puter lo­gon or for en­try to any of your fi­nan­cial or con­sumer ac­counts.

Even af­ter tak­ing these steps, you could still run into iden­tity theft. That’s why you need to watch for cer­tain signs, such as the ar­rival of un­ex­pected credit cards or ac­count state­ments, de­nials of credit for no clear rea­son, or calls or let­ters re­gard­ing pur­chases you didn’t make. If any of these things hap­pen to you, you may want to place a “fraud alert” on your credit re­ports and re­view them care­fully. Three na­tional cred­itre­port­ing com­pa­nies – Equifax, Ex­pe­rian and Tran­sUnion – keep records of your credit his­tory. If some­one has mis­used your per­sonal or fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion, con­tact one of the com­pa­nies and ask for an ini­tial fraud alert on your credit re­port. A fraud alert is free, but you must pro­vide proof of your iden­tity. And the com­pany you call must tell the other com­pa­nies about your alert. ( For more in­for­ma­tion on plac­ing a fraud alert, visit the web­site of any of the three com­pa­nies.)

You can help pre­serve your good name from those who want to mis­use it – so, stay vig­i­lant.

This ar­ti­cle was writ­ten by Ed­ward Jones for use by your lo­cal Ed­ward Jones Fi­nan­cial Ad­vi­sor.

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