ID Theft: 3 Ways to Avoid The Worst

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"Thanks for letting me steal your identity, son."
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The FTC recently reported that out of all consumer complaints, identity theft once again topped the list of biggest aggravations in 2014.

ID theft can take many forms and has many causes, from the increasingly large and well-publicized data breach events at government agencies, major retailers and hospitals to more mundane but just as damaging scams such as phishing emails from so-called Nigerian “princes.”

While an increasingly sophisticated software and services industry has emerged to help consumers defend their identities, it may be useful to review these three common sense steps first, to cover your bases.

These steps will not help you completely avoid ID theft, but it can help to alert you when a problem occurs and move to potentially limit the damage:

1. Regularly check your bank accounts and credit reports

Online banking tools make it easy to keep tabs on all of your financial accounts. It’s important to monitor your checking account balance as compromised card numbers can happen at any time due to some of the wide-scale data breaches mentioned above, and others we may not know about. Likewise, regular credit checks will help you to spot suspicious events as they come up and help you take action without delay.

2. Don’t share personal details

Your date of birth, bank account details and social security number can be used to compromise your accounts. This is why email phishing scams and similar phone scams have such a focus on parting you with such information. Do not share with anyone unknown to you or whom you can’t verify with confidence.

3. Monitor your name

While many people check their credit reports to potentially identify misuse of their details, they usually stop short of running a full self-background check. This can reveal information incorrectly associated with your identity that could have been the work of an impostor.

It’s important to realize that ID theft often occurs within families, where a shared last name makes ID theft much easier than it would be otherwise. This typically can happen when a parent, child or spouse gets financially desperate enough and seeks to open a secret credit card account or similarly seeks access to funds.

Being mindful of these basic steps and practicing them regularly can potentially help you sidestep some of the worst ID theft pitfalls.

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