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Basic steps to protect your identity

It is with alarming frequency that the breach of security pertaining to our personal information is reported in the daily news. During the month of June 2005, MasterCard International reported that about 40 million Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards have been exposed to a possible security breach. CitiFinancial reported losing a computer tape sent by UPS that contained confidential information for approximately 4 million of their customers. ChoicePoint reported that criminals obtained personal information on about 145,000 people. Interestingly enough and reported in the Journal on 6/21/05, Visa estimates that of security breaches only 2% of the cards exposed end up with fraudulent charges on them.

Although frequency of the thefts and security breaches are growing, there are certain things you can do to better protect your information. The key is to protect your social security number. In the wrong hands, this number enables the thief to: get credit cards, open new bank accounts and line of credits, get access to critical financial information such as investments and bank accounts, and create a nightmare in your life.

So what are some of the basic steps to better protect yourself?

1. Shred financial documents such as bank statements, tax returns, and credit card statements or any document with your account information as well as solicitations for opening of new mortgage, credit card and insurance accounts. Even consider cross-shredding your documents.

2. Protect your computer by making sure that you have an antispyware software and firewall on your computer and / or network. This will greatly reduce the possibility of your computer being hacked or software being loaded on your computer to record your confidential keystrokes without your knowledge. Utilize password security and authentication on your confidential documents to make it almost impossible to get into those documents.

3. Check your credit report at least once a year for accuracy. You are entitled to a free report from each of the three major credit report agencies; Equifax, TransUnion and Experian once per year. You may check the Federal Trade Commission for additional details as well as the site. You may want to consider requesting one free report every four months from the different agencies. This way you can still get your free yearly report, yet check your credit every four months.

4. Check your financial data such as your bank and investment accounts as well as your credit card accounts for accuracy at least once per month.

5. Implement Positive Pay for your checking accounts. This option enables you to provide your bank with a report listing the checks you authorize them to pay. Any check presented to the bank that is not on your report will not be approved for payment and if it does, it becomes the liability of your bank.

6. Consider removing yourself from solicitations received via mail for opening new credit card and insurance accounts. To opt-out from this option call 888-567-8688 or visit for the online option.

>As public confidence in shopping online is declining, while the concern of the protection of private information is increasing, following basic common sense and the steps outlined above is critical for your own protection. For additional resources visit the site of Attorney Steve Weisman or checkout the credit reports section of the site. 50 Ways to protect your Identity and Your Credit is a highly recommended book written by Steve.

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