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Identity theft prevention

Posted October 02, 2013 in Advice Column, Clear Lake

Oct. 20-27 is National Protect Your Identity Week. Without stealing your wallet, a crook can steal your financial identity with as little information as your Social Security number. Child identity theft is also a concern. Be careful to protect you children’s personal information as well. Use these tips to help avoid having your identity compromised:

• Be safe online. Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date.

•    Protect your personal information by opting for electronic delivery of your financial statements and other bills and shredding paper documents with personal information before disposing of them. Monitor your accounts online frequently. You can discover problems more quickly than if you wait for bills or statements to come in the mail.

•    Create strong passwords and keep them in a safe place. Never share your passwords with anyone, avoid using easy-to-guess common words or your personal information, change your password every 90 days and use a different password for each online account you create.

• Protect yourself against loss by removing any card from your wallet that you don’t use on a daily basis. This way, if you have a theft, you won’t have to notify as many entities. Photocopy both sides of all credit cards and keep this information in a safe place. If you lose your wallet, you’ll have the account numbers and phone numbers at your fingertips.

•    Keep an eye out for any missing mail, particularly account statements and bills that do not arrive when expected. Report missing statements and bills to your financial services provider issuing them.

•    Be wary of emails, phone calls or text messages that may look as though they come from a legitimate company like your bank or the IRS, asking you to update your personal information. This is called phishing, a technique used by identity thieves to steal your personal information. Scammers are increasingly using sophisticated technology that allows their number to appear as a legitimate business. Always verify that the sender of the message is legitimate. Do not return calls or text back with your personal information, and don’t give out your Social Security number or other personal credit information to anyone who contacts you.

•    Order free copies of your credit report once a year from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies to ensure accuracy. Go to the Federal Trade Commission’s authorized website, for your free credit report.

Report any suspected fraud to your bank and the fraud units of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies immediately. The fraud unit numbers are Equifax: (800) 525-6285; Experian: (888) 397-3742; and TransUnion: (800) 680-7289.

Information provided by Tim Esbeck, community president, Manufacturer’s Bank & Trust Clear Lake Branch, 1919 Hwy. 18 East, Clear Lake. For more information, call 641-357- 6161.

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