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The Winners Edge Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

The high tech age has created a new form of crime known as identity theft. Basically, identity theft is the use of your name, social security number and other personal information to steal money from you or to commit some other form of fraud. Identity thieves will open credit card accounts in your name, steal from your bank accounts and ruin your credit rating and reputation.

Victims of identity theft have been refused loans, turned down for jobs and in some cases arrested for crimes they didn't commit. HOW IT OCCURS Identity thieves can gain access to your sensitive personal information in several ways. They can obtain information from businesses and other institutions, such as schools, by stealing records from their employers, bribing employees to steal it and by hacking into computers. They can "dumpster dive," that is, rummage through your trash can or the trash of businesses.

They can use a technique known as "skimming" to steal your credit card number when your card is processed at a store. They can use their employer's access to credit reports to get your confidential information. Or, they may contact credit reporting agencies and pose as an employer or landlord. They steal wallets and purses, which usually contain driver's licenses, credit and debit cards. They will steal your mail, looking for bank and credit card statements, tax documents, new checks and offers for pre-approved credit cards. They steal personal information from your home.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF The first thing to do is order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Contact: Equifax www.equifax.com 1-800-685-1111 Experian www.experian.

com 1-888-EXPERIAN Transunion www.transunion.com 1-800-916-8800 If there are no unauthorized activities on your credit reports, there is a good chance that you have not been a victim. Yet.

So you must be diligent and cautious about when and how you reveal any information about yourself. Here are some other steps to take: Put passwords on your bank accounts, credit cards and phone accounts. It's best not to use information that can be easily obtained such as your birth date, your mother's maiden name, the last four digits of your social security number or your phone number Make sure that all of your personal information in your home is in a secure place, especially if you have roommates or if you have outside people such as contractors or cleaning service staff work in your home.

Do not give out any information over the phone or on the internet unless you are the one who initiated contact and you know who you are dealing with. When filling out applications, ask how your personal information will be used and secured, and if it will be shared with others. Ask if you can have the info be kept confidential. Protect your mail.

Don't put outgoing mail in your personal mailbox to be picked up. Instead take it to the post office or drop it in an official mailbox Buy a shredder. Shred all mail and other pieces of paper that contain personal information before putting it in the garbage. This includes mailing labels on magazines, receipts, insurance forms, doctor's statements, bank statements, checks and credit card statements.

If you aren't able to obtain a shredder, thoroughly tear up all of these items. Only give out your Social Security Number(SSN) when absolutely necessary and keep your Social Security card in a safe place. Ask to use other ways to identify yourself. Often, employers and financial institutions will want your SSN for tax reporting purposes so you will probably have to give it to them. When you leave home, keep on your person only those credit cards and types of identification that you will need with you. Stay on top of your billing cycles.

If your bills don't arrive on time, contact your credit card companies to see if there has been unauthorized use of your card.

Danek S. Kaus is the co-author of "Power Persuasion: Using Hypnotic Influence to Win in Life, Love and Business" (David R. Barron and Danek S. Kaus). To learn more winning ways, visit http://winnersedge.blogspot.com or request a free weekly newsletter filled with tips from experts in every area of life. Write to dkaus@sbcglobal.net


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