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Protect Yourself From Identity Theft - 5 Key Steps
Protecting yourself from identity theft is a chore that is about as exciting as paying bills, and every bit as necessary. Regardless of whether you choose to enroll in an identity theft protection service or if you decide to do it yourself, there are some key steps you will want to make sure you have covered.
1. Use credit bureau fraud alerts to help stop identity theft
A fraud alert is a special note that can be placed on your credit file with the 3 main credit bureaus. By placing a fraud alert, anytime a request is made in your name for a new credit account to be established, you are required to provide authorization to the credit issuer or it cannot be opened. This is a great measure to help avoid accounts being opened in your name by an identity thief.
A fraud alert is by far the strongest method available to proactively protect your personal identity. It is important to note that they only remain active for 90 days at a time, so you will need to contact the credit bureaus to renew them.
2. Dispose of personal documents appropriately
One of the favorite methods used by criminals to assume an identity is to gather discarded documents from trash bins. This practice is also known as "dumpster diving". To combat dumpster diving, purchase a cross cut shredder and shred all pre-screened credit and insurance offers, bank statements and any other documents that contain sensitive information.
If you would like to minimize the amount of shredding you do, opt out of solicitation lists with creditors so you no longer receive these prescreened offers. Not only are you taking a proactive step to lessen your exposure to possible identity theft, you are cutting down on the massive amounts of paper these companies waste by sending mailings to you.
3. Monitor Your Personal Information
It is important to monitor your personal information across as many data sources as possible to make sure that nobody is attempting to steal your identity. Records such as judgment filings, bankruptcy liens, DMV records, utilities and more can be one of the first places consumers notice that a thief is attempting to assume your identity. These sources can be monitored by you manually, or for a small fee there are services that will monitor data across all of these data sources and report changes to you as they occur.
4. Monitor Your Credit Report
Though checking your credit bureau report does not assist you in stopping identity theft from happening, it is a great way to be sure that no new accounts have been established in your name without you knowing. Beware there are a lot of companies that offer "free" credit reports that require a membership fee, so unless you are interested in the additional benefits offered by these companies, don't waste your time and money on them.
As an American, you are entitled to 3 credit reports (one from each of the main credit bureaus) each year for free. This can be done online at annualcreditreport.com.
5. Consider an Identity Theft Protection Program
There has been a lot of discussion as to whether or not identity theft protection services are necessary to help stop id fraud. Many companies offer services for a monthly or yearly fee that consumers are able to do for themselves at no cost. One benefit to having a third party company handle it for you is that you don't have to constantly remember to call the credit bureaus to renew fraud alerts or try to keep a close eye on public records. Also, most companies provide an insurance policy to help you recoup expenses related to recovering your identity if you were to become a victim.
The bottom line is regardless of how you choose to protect yourself from this crime, as long as you are being proactive and taking the recommended steps, your chances of falling victim to identity theft are greatly reduced.
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