Protecting your identity: Reduce your exposure to identity theft

Credit Card fraud is not the only kind of identity theft. Identity theft happens in many different ways. You can reduce your risk of being a victim of identity theft if you understand how thieves get hold of your personal data and take away their access.

Here are some of the most common ways identity thieves get people's information:

* Dumpster diving: Thieves rummage through trash to look for bills or other personal financial information. Do yourself a favor. Shred all personal financial information before you throw it away.

* Skimming: Thieves steal your credit card or debit card information by using a special storage device when processing your card. Be careful about using a credit card when you go into a store you don't frequent regularly.

* Phishing: Thieves make you think you're linking to a financial institution or other legitimate company and then ask you to supply your personal financial information for a loan, purchase or to update your records. Never give your financial information if you've clicked on a link from an unsolicited email. Many phishing thieves can make an email and web page look like it's actually the bank's website and it's not. Your best bet is to go to the official web site for the financial institution or company and then give the information to update the account or make a purchase. You can avoid the phishers that way.

* Changing Your Address: Thieves sometimes change your address with a credit card company before they start using your card. They can then get all the information they need mailed to them. If you don't get a credit card bill when you're expecting to receive it, call to check on the delay. It could be someone else is getting that bill so you don't see the charges they are making. Personally I go into the website and check my account online for each of my credit cards at least weekly. If I see a charge I don't recognize, i call immediately. Most times it's a charge I forgot about or a charge under a company name different than the one I visited. But, I have caught a number of fraudulent charges over the years.

* Stealing it: Thieves get their information by stealing your purse or wallet or by taking pre-approved credit card offers out of your mail box. They also may take a new box of checks or tax information sent by mail. Some steal information by hacking into business websites or your employer's files. Others bribe employees to get the information.

Often people don't even find out about an identity theft until the thieves have charged thousands of dollars on your credit cards or opened new loans in your name. Read more about securing your information here.

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

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