You took the time to improve your credit score, pay down debt and get on a stable financial track. But all that hard work can unravel if you become a victim of identity theft.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information, such as your Social Security number, birth date or mother's maiden name. Many people don't know they've been victimized until a collection agency comes knocking on their door.
Don't let that happen to you. Identity theft is a growing problem, but there are steps you can take to prevent it.
1. Never give out personal information over the phone, on the Internet or through the mail unless you initiate the transaction or know who you're dealing with.
2. Don't reveal any personal information before you find out how it will be used and shared with others.
3. Ensure the passwords to your credit card, bank, phone and all other online accounts are not easily available and cannot easily be guessed. Avoid using obvious information such as your birth date, digits in your Social Security number or your mother's maiden name.
4. Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Tear up or shred all unnecessary papers containing Social Security numbers, account numbers and birthdates before discarding them so "dumpster divers" can't retrieve them.
5. Make sure the information you're entering when shopping online is secure. Look for https:// or a "lock" icon in the website address.
6. Protect your mail. Get incoming mail in a locked mailbox or slot. Take outgoing mail to a postal mailbox or the post office. If your mail suddenly stops, go to the post office. Thieves sometimes submit change of address forms to divert mail to their address.
7. Check your bank and credit card statements promptly. If you see any problems, report them immediately.
8. Order a copy of your credit report annually from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Review each report for accuracy and make sure it contains transactions only you have authorized.
The Federal Trade Commission offers additional resources and tips to help prevent identity theft and what to do if you think your identity has been stolen.
For more information and tools to manage your money with confidence, go to SaveAndInvest.org.
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