Learn to avoid identity theft
First, the bad news: Theres still plenty of identity theft out there. Now, the better news: Theres not as much as in previous years. And heres the best news: You can do a lot to protect yourself from being victimized.Identity theft basically involves someone getting some pieces ofinformation about you name, Social Security number, credit card numbers, pre-approved credit card offers and using this data to make purchases or withdraw funds from your accounts.In 2006, some 8.4 million Americans were hit by identity fraud but thats 500,000 fewer victims than in the year before, according to a study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research. The study also found that, in 2006, the average victim of an existing account fraud paid $587 out-of-pocket in consumer costs associated with the fraud, while victims of new accounts opened in their name paid, on average, $617.The overall decline in identity theft may indicate that more people are acting to protect themselves, but the average cost per person shows that fraud victims still can get hurt. How can you reduce the chances of being victimized by identity theft? Here are some suggestions:Shield your credit card from prying eyes and ears. Thieves can now use camera cell phones to take photos of your credit cards while youre making purchases. Dont pull your credit card from your wallet or purse until youre ready to use it, and put it away afterward.If youre making a contribution over the phone to a political or nonprofit group, dont give out your credit card number unless youre sure the organization is legitimate.Use secure sites when shopping online. Before giving out your credit card number to make a purchase on the Internet, make sure youre on a secure site one that begins with https://. (The s stands for secure.) Also, the site should display a small lock or other security seal.Change your PIN number. Change the PIN number on your cash card once in a while.Shred those documents. If you are purging old investment statements, tax returns and bank documents, use a shredder. And while you have the shredder out, use it on pre-approved credit card offers.Go virtual. Try to replace paper statements from banks, financial services providers and credit card issuers with online versions. Many businesses will be happy to save the cost and expense of mailing account statements to you.Check your bank statements. Whether you get your bank statements online or on paper, check them at least a few times a month. If you find a transaction that looks unfamiliar or questionable, call your bank to find out more details.Get your credit report annually. To request a copy of your credit report, you can call the three main credit bureaus: Equifax (1-800-685-1111), Experian (1-888-397-3742) and Trans Union (1-800-888-4213). Check your report closely for surprises or unaccounted activity.Guard your personal information. Dont carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Unless its truly necessary, as when youre filing official papers, dont give out your Social Security number.Identity thieves are clever, so do whatever it takes to keep them out of your life.Charlie Wick, Tina DeWitt and Todd DeJong are financial advisers with Edward Jones Investments. They can be reached in Eagle at 328-4959, in Edwards at 926-1728, and in Avon at 845-1025.
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