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How to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 7 percent of U.S. households reported being victims of some sort of identity fraud. Total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2013 was $21 billion, up $7.8 billion from 2010. Clearly, this is a growing crime that affects more and more people every year.

With some simple advice, you can be proactive in protecting your identity and also be in a position to catch any suspicious account activity early and report it.


Do

Do conduct a regular background check on yourself

Look for a service that allows you to do a background check on yourself. Often these services can be found online for free or at a charge. However, make sure that the company is legitimate by searching online for reviews and doing research about the company before giving them your information. It is important to know what information about you exists on the web and to ensure it is accurate. Maybe you have the same name as someone with a sketchy past or maybe someone has stolen your identity without you realizing it. Search yourself often to know what information is assessable about you.

Do set up a P.O. Box

Set up a P.O. Box that is not in the same zip code as your residence. This is one of the simplest ways to protect your online identity so that if someone steals your credit cards, they don’t know the zip code associated with your account.

Do check your credit report once a year

You are entitled to a free credit report from one of the major credit reporting agencies once a year. Check your credit report to detect identity fraud early and to be well informed and on top of your financial situation.

Do strengthen your passwords

At the very least, create a very strong password for any financial accounts. Use a longer password that uses lower and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols. Write the password down on a sheet of paper or store it encrypted on your computer so that people are unable to access it without the encryption code.


Don't

Do not forget to change your address

Once you have your P.O. box, don’t forget to update all of your addresses. Change your address to your P.O. box for all credit card billing statements, insurances statements, and vehicle registration. Don’t make it easy for criminals to find more information on you.

Do not throw away any important documents without shredding them

Buy a shredder and use it. When in doubt, shred it. You receive documents in the mail all the time and a lot of them contain everything a criminal would need to steal your identity. Shred documents like credit card offers, unneeded personal and financial documents, and anything in general that contains evidence of your zipcode, address, and personal information that could link you to your financial accounts.

Do not shop on websites that don’t offer a privacy policy

Only shop on websites that offer a privacy policy, which should be easy to find on the website. You should always know how your personal information will be handled. Also, look for Better Business Bureau accreditation and/or the Trust-e symbol.

Do not open suspicious links or emails

It is easy to have your personal information stolen via a link. If you question a link in any way, don’t open it! It is that simple. Ask the person you sent it to clarify the contents.


Summary
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Identify theft is growing every year. The easiest way to protect yourself online is to be proactive – know what information is available about you and protect your information. If you are careful you will lower your chances of being a victim of identity theft and will catch any suspicious activity early.


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Erik KnightOwner

Erik Knight is the founder of Dirtsearch.org founded in 2008. Erik originally created the site when a number of people asked him to find information on people their significant others were dating through public records. After doing this a number...

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