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6 ways to protect yourself from identity theft

Lori Wilson is a SheKnows.com Home & Living columnist, as well as a freelance writer in Los Angeles, who after a lifetime of enduring harsh Michigan winters, relishes the warmth year round.

A proactive approach

It's easy to think that it will never happen to you, but it if does, you will be in a world of hurt. It is reported that roughly nine million people a year are victims of identity theft and spend about 300 million hours a year re-establishing their identities.

Identity Theft
If someone steals your identity, you will waste a lot of time going through red tape with banks and credit companies. In order to prevent this increasingly common crime from causing you a lot of stress and headache, take these steps to prevent this from happening to you.

 

don't talk to strangers

Keep your personal information personal. Be especially protective of your social security number. Don't put it on your checks and only give out if necessary. Before you casually give it out, find out if there's an alternative. Don't be afraid to ask questions and be assertive before you randomly hand out information as trivial as your phone number.

 

balance your checkbook

Read every monthly statement you receive from your bank and credit cards. Make sure that all your purchases match up with your receipts and logs. It may take a few extra minutes, but it will be worth it in the long run. This will also help you to avoid debt, encouraging you to always know on what and where you're spending.

 

shred! shred! shred!

Buy a shredder at your local Staples or Office Max and use it on all of your credit card, loan or bank statements that you throw out. People are not above dumpster diving to steal your information. So make sure you shred anything with personal data on it before your throw it out, which includes the numerous credit card offers you receive in the mail. Also, be wary of putting outgoing bills in your mailbox where people can take them. Thieves can easily steal your checking, bank or credit account information off the checks you write, as well as your signature.

 

switch up your pin numbers

PIN numbers should be a series of random numbers that no one could guess. Don't use birthdays or your age, and change it up every few months. Likewise, passwords should be a combination of numbers and letters that don't have much relevance either. Don't use kids' names either that a thief could easily figure out.

 

don't go phishing

Don't answer emails or phone calls (a.k.a. "pretexting" or "phishing" requests) from companies asking for personal details. If you've set up accounts with them, they should already have this information.

 

Check your credit report

You are entitled to one free credit report a year from the three credit agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Make sure you take advantage of this and go through each report with a fine toothcomb to make sure there is nothing out of the ordinary. If there is, don't hesitate to call and investigate.

 

keep your guard up

Your identity safety is as important as your physical safety. If you stay aware and take the proper precautions, you just might avoid the many hours of headache and hassle identity thieves can bring you.

 

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