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10 Simple Rules to Protect Your Identity

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It's not often you go out for a walk and bump into your twin - however, it's happening more often, thanks to criminals stealing the identities of others to commit fraud. These "evil twins" can pillage your credit by opening multiple accounts in your name, write forged checks, buy property, change your address for financial documents, and pose as you to receive government benefits. If they are skilled at avoiding detection, they may be able to use your identity for years before you ever become suspicious.

There are some factors you cannot control, such as data breaches at companies you deal with - however, at least those thefts become public fairly quickly. Smaller, less detectable and more personal crimes are harder to detect, unless you remain vigilant. However, an identity theft solution is as easy as a few small tweaks in your day-to-day lifestyle. To decrease your chances of acquiring an evil twin, practice these simple rules to protect yourself:

1.  Shred old documents

Thieves need to grab your personal information, and one easy way is to simply search through your garbage. Old credit card and bank statements and other financial documents are gold. By investing in a cross-shredder (cuts both ways, not in strips), you signal to a neighborhood snooper that you're not worth the trouble.

2. Monitor your credit reports

The first signs of a criminal using your identity is finding strange new accounts, lines of credit and enquiries on your credit report you never applied or asked for. A credit report monitoring service will notify you of any changes made to your credit within a day, or order your reports yourself and scan them carefully.

3. Place your birth certificate and SSN in a safety deposit box

There's no need to carry these vital pieces of information with you. These days, when thieves break into your house, they will often steal more than your jewelry. They also look for personal information to forge or sell, which is quickly becoming more profitable than your television. Secure all your personal information and place passwords on your computer.

 

4. Watch where you share your information

Unfortunately, a lot of id thieves work on the inside, often as retail clerks or employees at a corporation. Online and offline, keep tabs on where you shop and who you deal with. If you become a victim, you at least have some idea of where the theft could have occurred.

5. Play it safe on the Internet

The Internet is a very convenient way to steal your information. The thief can be thousands of miles away and only needs a computer and some tricks to gain your information. Fraudulent emails, fake websites and unsecured e-commerce sites are common methods to sneak spyware and tracking software onto your computer to monitor your activity. Phishing emails, that is, emails made to look like official messages from your financial institution, are used to try and lure you into revealing your information. Only shop online at websites you trust, and instead of clicking the link in emails, type the address directly in your browser.

 

6. Use smart passwords

Another way to gain your information online is simply attacking legitimate websites you deal with to try and gain logins and passwords. One such method includes "dictionary attacks," where every possible word in the dictionary is automatically fed into a login screen. In this case, the hacker hopes that somebody has used a common word as a password. To avoid this, use strong passwords with a combination of letters and numbers, and use different passwords for different websites.

7. Retire your old computer securely

Buying a new computer? Use special data cleaning software to wipe your hard drive clean. Simply throwing documents and records in your electronic trash can does not delete them, only marks them as deleted. Old hard drives often go for sale on Ebay. In one study, researchers found that 80% of the hard drives they purchased had financial records and credit card numbers still on them.

8. Don't advertise your wealth - fold that big screen tv box inside out

The day after Christmas is a feast for thieves. They can find targets with large bank accounts simply by driving down back lanes and spotting families who recently bought expensive electronics like a big screen television. Instead, cut down your boxes and fold them inside out to disguise what you bought.

9. Protect your PIN number

Shoulder-surfing is a common way to steal your PIN number. A stranger in line behind you will quickly note the numbers you punch into the ATM or debit machine. They can simply steal your card and empty your bank account, or manufacture a clone of your card with your correct security information. Be careful who is behind you and cover the keypad with your other hand while punching in your code.

10. Check your credit card statements

With stolen credit cards so prevalent, check your monthly statements carefully. If you do not recall a certain purchase, pursue it further with your credit card company. Thieves will often charge small purchases first to "test the waters" to see if you notice and report it. If not, they will then make larger and bolder purchases until the card is shut down.

Chris is the editor of Creditidentitysafe.com, where he reviews identity theft protection products to keep you safe from id theft.

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