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Guard Against Identity Theft

Worry someone may snag your personal info? Protect yourself!

Keep Your Social Secret
Keep your Social Security card buried where only you would be able to find it. Don't write the number on your checks when you make payments and don't put it on your driver's license. And reconsider giving out the nine numbers except for tax purposes.

Don't Tell All on Checks
Limit the information printed on your checks. Consider using just your first initials and never include your home phone number. If you still write checks to pay credit card bills, write only the last four digits of your account in the memo of your check. 

Shred That Mail
Ripping stuff in half isn't enough. Use a paper shredder or paper-shredding scissors to cut up credit card and ATM receipts, statements, and unused credit card offers.

Protect Your Passwords
Get creative with passwords and assign them to all of your key accounts:

  • Avoid your birth date.
  • Skip the last four digits of your SSN or telephone number.
  • Don't use consecutive numbers or letters.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts.
  • Use something like the name of your favorite designer or a grouping of the TV channels you run home from work to watch.
  • Try a combo of upper- and lowercase letters plus numbers.

Cover Your Computer
Never use an automatic login. It may save time, but it's not secure, especially on laptops, which are more vulnerable to theft. If you plan on giving away or donating an old computer, delete personal info on the hard drive or use a "wipe" utility program. Make sure your firewall, anti-spam, anti-spyware, and anti-adware programs are up-to-date to limit a hacker's ability to access to your computer.

Keep Track of Billing Cycles
Track your bills to make sure they don't get diverted by a thief. Record the usual payment due date for each credit card and utility bill. It should fall around the same date each month. Design a spreadsheet to track the dates or write them into your daily planner. This way, you'll be more aware if something's missing.

Pay Smart Online 
It's actually safer to pay bills online than via snail mail since there's no paper trail (as long as you use your computer, not at a hotel or cybercafe, for instance). Just make sure the site you're dealing with offers secure encryption of any transactions.

-- Grace Jidoun

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