Identity Theft Protection Tips

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How can I protect my kids from being targeted by identity thieves?

Identity Theft: Protecting Kids from Being the Target

Most of the advice we get about identity theft protection is directed at adults. Fair enough. We're the ones holding the credit cards that attract the most prevalent type of identity theft crime – credit card fraud. But thieves don't necessarily see it that way. Kids are ‘fair game' to identity thieves, especially online.

Parents already worry about online predators trying to lure children and teens out into the open. But precautions against identity theft ploys should also be on the top of the list of concerns. Many kid-friendly sites are social sites where they go to meet new friends, communicate with current friends and talk about where they “hang” and what they do. But the innocent sharing of names, addresses, birth dates, and other personal information makes a predominantly kid populated website a great phishing hole for identity thieves.

What can you do? Web filters and security software may be able to prevent kids from accessing certain websites, but it can't stop them from freely sharing information. In additional to external identity theft solutions:

  • Teach kids about privacy. Even very young children can understand the basics of privacy. If children are old enough to find their way around the Internet, they're old enough to understand that the Internet is a very public place and personal information must be kept private.
  • Make a rule that your child needs parental permission before entering any personal information into a web form. There will be occasions when it's okay for kids to give out information such as signing up for an e-zine or to access free online games and puzzles. Just make sure they know they need to ask your permission to do so first.

How can I be proactive to guard against identity theft?

Proactive Steps Deter Potential for Identity Theft

With so much of our personal information already widely distributed in databases and storage files, it's impossible to gain complete control over whether or not we'll be victims of identity theft. What we can do to increase identity theft protection is be proactive by rethinking current vulnerabilities that we can control.

For example, increase the use of passwords. Using passwords online is common practice, but you can help to increase credit card security by placing passwords on credit card, bank, and phone accounts, too. When you do use a password, avoid using the traditional ones like your mother's maiden name, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your birth date.

Be conscious of where you keep your personal information stored in your home, especially if you use or employ contractors like a cleaning service, have roommates, or if anyone has access to your home when you're not there.

Ask questions about how your personal information is secured at work, at your doctor's and dentist's offices, and banking institution or credit union. Find out who has access to personal information and verify whether or not your information is shared with other companies. If it is, request that you be removed from the list.

Apply new meaning to the old saying, “one man's trash is another man's treasure.” Dumpster divers aren't always looking for discarded items that can be cleaned up and reused. Some of them are searching your trash for documents containing your personal information so they can help themselves to your identity. Make sure the trash you throw out doesn't result in someone trashing your credit history.

What are some of the things I can personally do to protect from identity theft?

Avoid Becoming an ID Theft Victim by Trusting Your Instincts

It's happened to just about everyone – someone asks you a personal question and you hesitate to answer. Yet, more often than not, you volunteer the information anyway despite the faint twinge of discomfort. Most times no real damage is done for having shared information, yet, when it comes to precautions you can take for identity theft protection, trusting your instincts is one of the best deterrents you have.

Here's a short of list of ‘instinctual behavior' that will help protect against identity theft:

If a company asks for your Social Security number, say no. Some businesses are still in the habit of setting up accounts with and using Social Security numbers as a form of ID. And if you check the health insurance card you carry in your wallet, you may be surprised to find that your account number is your Social Security number. Current legislation is calling for this practice to be stopped because it leaves the door wide open for identity thieves. If you are applying for a loan or credit card, filing your taxes, or submitting paperwork for a job, the request will be legitimate. Otherwise, get a reason for the request and make sure you're comfortable with the explanation before agreeing to provide your Social Security number.

Watch clerks and servers charge your credit card. While it may be a courtesy for a waitress or store clerk to save you the steps of paying your bill at the register, letting your credit card out of your sight is a risky practice. If it doesn't “feel right” to hand someone your card and have them disappear into the kitchen or a back room to run the charge, don't do it. Go to the register and witness the transaction yourself.

Be wary of fundraising calls. If you want to donate to a charity or support local fundraising efforts, take the initiative to contact the organization rather than respond to a phone call you receive at your home. Fundraisers, phone surveys, and callers claiming to need to verify your account information may be legitimate, but are also popular covers for fraud schemes. Giving out personal information and credit card information to unknown callers isn't being polite – it's being foolish.

How does a credit report help protect me from identity theft?

Benefits of Monitoring Your Credit Report

If you stockpile as much information as you can possibly get your hands on about identity theft protection and prevention, you'll find every resource names two priorities: protect your Social Security number and keep close tabs on your credit report. Why are they such a big deal?

Without question, the worst cases of identity theft are directly attributed to thieves who able to capture a victim's Social Security number. In the eyes of the government, your SSN is your identity. With your SSN in hand, thieves can open new accounts, take out loans and even file for bankruptcy in your name, leaving your credit history in shambles. The damage can be done quickly, and it will be costly for you to clean up the mess.

Your credit report is your financial report card. Any time you want to apply for a loan or new credit cards, the lending institution will request a copy of your credit report to review your history, look for red flags, and determine if you are creditworthy, with emphasis placed on your credit scores. The better your scores, the greater your financial integrity and you'll have no problems with acquiring financing. However, if you credit report is poor, you will not only be deemed high risk, you may be denied financing. Every account you open and each late payment or default on mortgage and car loans, credit cards and utility bills will be reported and included on your credit report.

A thief with your SSN has the power to destroy your credit history. By monitoring your credit report regularly you can detect any fraudulent activity early and take steps to stop it.

For more information about identity theft monitoring and protection, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.

Should I invest in identity theft insurance and monitoring services?

ID Theft: Don't Pay for Protection You Already Have

With identity theft crimes on the rise, a new batch of monitoring services and insurance coverage plans has followed. But before you start throwing your hard earned cash at agents for these added identity theft protection services, it's in your best interest to find out what coverage and services you already have access to.

Monitoring services

Different identity theft monitoring services offer varying levels of monitoring activity. Basic services do nothing more than scan your credit files at one or all of the three major credit reporting agencies, alerting you to any changes. By law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year so this is something you can do yourself for free. However, the higher priced services may include monitoring public records and Internet-based financial black markets where thieves buy and sell other people's personal information.

Insurance coverage

Before investing in an identity theft insurance policy, rifle through the home insurance policy that you already have or call your agent to clarify coverage. Many insurers automatically include identity theft coverage in homeowner policies. If you don't have coverage for ID theft, be thorough in your research before signing up for it. The insurance may cover expenses, such as lost wages and legal fees, but it won't reimburse you for stolen money. When weighing these factors, keep in mind that it is rare that ID theft victims incur any legal fees. Also, many policies exclude payment if a family member commits the crime.

The bottom line is “buyer beware” before you pay for protection from identity theft that you may already have.

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Christina Chan