Protecting your identity: Securing your financial information

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Luckily today it's not hard to secure your credit information. As long as you're not looking to take a loan any time soon, your first step should be to "freeze" your credit report. That way no one can open an account without getting permission from you to look at your credit history.

Once that's in place, you'll need to change some habits when handling key financial information. Here's some simple steps you can take:

  • Shred financial documents and paperwork that have any personal information before you throw them out. this includes all statements that have your account number or Social Security number on them. If you commonly write account numbers on checks when you pay bills, be sure to shred those too when you no longer need them.
  • Safeguard your Social Security number at all times. Don't carry your Social Security card regularly in your wallet or print it on your check. If a financial institution or medical insurance company, or anyone else for that matter, wants to use your Social Security number as part of an identification number, insist that they don't.
  • If you get unsolicited emails or emails that appear to be from your bank or a government agency, don't ever click on the link. If you think it might be legitimate, go to the official website of the financial institution or other company and then order what you want or provide the financial information they are requesting. People who phish for information commonly use this trick by sending what looks like an official email and linking to a website that collects your information for identity theft purposes.
  • When you create passwords on the Internet, don't use information that a thief could easily find out about you, such as your birth date, your mother's maiden name, your address, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Develop a random series of numbers and letters instead.
  • Always keep your personal information in a secure place in your home, especially if you have roommates or employ others who work in your home.

I can't guarantee these steps will prevent all identity theft entirely, but they will certainly reduce your chances of being a victim.

Lita Epstein has written more than 20 books including the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Improving Your Credit Score."

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