TEN WAYS TO PREVENT IDENTITY THEFTThe damages caused by identity theft may take years to fully remedy. Here are ten tips for avoiding identity theft:

1) Protect and monitor your credit. Regularly check your credit report to see if any fraudulent credit cards or accounts have been opened in your name. Monitor your credit by taking advantage of free credit reports and consider purchasing additional intermittent reports for continuous oversight of your credit. If and when necessary, place fraud alerts and credit freezes on your account.

2) Keep your records and important documents in safe places. Keep personal documents in a safe and the more important ones in a safe deposit box outside the home. Don’t simply dispose of sensitive materials such as financial statements and pre–approved credit card offers by throwing them in the garbage, shred them. Crosscut shredders dice paper into tiny squares. Traditional shredders turn paper into strips whereas microcut shredders turn paper into confetti. All are effective to some extent but microcut shredders are probably the best of them all.

 3) Closely examine bank and credit card statements regularly. Soon after receiving your bank and credit card statements, examine them for unauthorized charges and make sure you actually made all of the purchases listed. If there are any discrepancies or indications of fraudulent activity, act without hesitation and contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

 4) Protect your information that is physically accessible to others. Pick up your mail as soon as possible and bring outgoing mail to the post office or to a drop box rather than leaving it in your mailbox. Make sure that your purse or wallet is secure whenever in public or in the company of strangers. If you use a purse, use one with a zipper that can close it completely shut. Again, do not leave wallets or purses unattended, exposed or in obvious places when in public or the company of strangers. Photocopy credit cards, ID cards, and all other personal documents you keep in your purse or wallet in a safe, safe deposit box, or both (it never hurts to have copies). Don’t forget to make a list of contact phone numbers in case you need to close accounts or order replacement items like debit or credit cards.

 5) Share personal information only under limited circumstances. Use your common sense. Unless you are dealing with someone you know and trust, do not give anyone personal information over the phone, mail or web. Do not allow yourself to be included on promotional lists such as junk mail and pre-approved credit card lists and immediately remove yourself when you become aware of any such inclusion. Do not feel pressured to answer personal questions if you do not trust the source. Request without hesitation verifying information before sharing any personal data about yourself.

 6) Use caution when using ATMs and other devices where you have to enter a PIN. Pay attention when using an ATM and always shield the keypad when entering your PIN. Also, be aware that some ATMs are set up to copy your account number while issuing money.

 7) Use “legitimate” passwords – those that are difficult for others to decipher. While it is easier to use the same short and simple password for all of your accounts, it also makes it easier for identity thieves to decipher. You should use a random combination of letters, numbers and symbols for maximum protection. Impersonal, unrelated words in combination with letters and numbers (that are not birthdays or high school graduation years) make the best passwords.

 8) Zealously protect your Social Security Number. The IRS advises that you should not carry your Social Security card or other documents containing your SSN on your person in public. If anyone in the course of your personal business asks for your SSN, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and under what circumstances will they ever share it. If after their explanation you are still uncomfortable with disclosing it, reply in the negative, don’t be afraid to say no. Also, if possible do not allow companies to use your SSN as an identification number, especially if it will appear repeatedly. It takes only a stolen Social Security Number with a fake address and phone number to open a new credit card account.

 9) Minimize the number of credit cards that you use and close all unused accounts. For many reasons, having a large number of credit cards is not a good idea. Keep only those you actually use or plan on using. Keep organized records of all your credit cards and their billing cycle. Cancel credit cards that you aren’t using. There’s no reason to have open credit as the less credit you have open, the less you’ll have to monitor.

 10) Keep your computer secure. Make sure you have up-to-date antivirus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware software installed in addition to your firewall. If you pay bills online, never store credit card or bank account information on the payee’s website. Routinely change passwords for internet accounts.

If you have questions about identity theft, including identity theft related to the filing of your taxes, contact the tax experts at Thorgood Law Firm www.thorgoodlaw.com For a FREE consultation, call at 212-490-0704.

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