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Protecting Your Finances: How to Prevent Identity Theft

MAS Identity Theft
I absolutely loathe getting calls from private, unknown, or 1-800's numbers. Nothing ever good comes from these calls—bill collectors, scammers probing for my background, and exes. Typically I don't even answer my cell when these numbers come up, but for some strange reason, something felt particularly "wrong" when I received a 1-800 call a few weeks ago. My intuition was right.

"Hi yes," said the woman on the other end, "I'm calling from Chase Bank and we've noticed some unusual purchasing activity on your account." At first I thought it was a scam, some criminal trying to swindle me for my account number. "Did you spend $2,000 at Ralph Lauren and Bebe's clothing and apparel on May 1?" she continued. Of course I didn't spend nearly an entire pay check on two frou-frou luxury clothing stores that I don't even dare walking into because I know I can't afford anything in there. I took a moment to excuse myself as I logged in my bank account online. And that's when my heart sunk. Stolen from my account? A whopping $2,000. I was a victim of identity theft.

While Chase assured me that if I filled out the right paperwork I'd get "most" of my money put back into my account (and I did), in retrospect, there was so much I could of done to try and prevent such a "inconvenience" from happening –and I do mean inconvenience. I had bills to pay and a trip I was taking in just a few short weeks. It couldn't have occurred at a worse time. That said, below are some ways you can learn from my mistakes and help protect yourself from credit card identity theft.

 Shred all of your Bank Statements 

The easiest thing you can do is invest in a shredder and properly dispose of all of your paper bank statements and credit card/debit card receipts that you don’t need anymore. You'd be surprised to learn how much a "professional" can do with just your name and the last four digits of your credit card number. Some scammers intentionally dig through trash in order to retrieve this information, so don't make their jobs any easier by throwing your sensitive documents in the dumpster whole—especially public trash cans like those found in parks.

Only use "Secured" Sites when Making Purchases

Ensuring that the website you're browsing is "secured" when making online purchases is essential. Otherwise, your credit card information, including your EFC and your billing address could potentially be a free-for-all. There are several different ways that you can make sure the page you are viewing is secured. The first is to look at the address. A secured website will read https:// ; an unsecured site will read http:// – notice how the secured website has an "s"? Pay close attention to these details. Another indication that the website is secured is that there will be a visible locked padlock on the address bar as well, before the https://. Click on the pad lock to make sure its certificate of authenticity hasn't expired. Some scammers are smart enough to forge fake padlocks on their malicious sites.

Change Pins and Passwords Frequently

It might be a tad annoying having to remember new passwords to your accounts, online log-ins, and debit card every six months or so, but doing this can really help potential criminals from hacking into your information. Don't ever make an "obvious" pin or password either, such as the last four digits of your social security number, phone number or your name.

Set up Alerts 

Last but not least you want to set up alerts whenever money is taken out of your account to be sent to your phone. My bank was gracious enough to personally call me when my unfortunate circumstance happened (after all, my bank knew I never spent that much money at one time) but don't depend on your bank to give you a heads up. Always monitor your own account. This will help you catch unusual activity much more quickly which means the chances of you getting reimbursed are higher. This will also help you catch any discrepancies—perhaps a restaurant or hotel over charged you for something.

Criminals and hackers are smart. The smartest of the bunch may just very well find a way to your information despite your efforts. However, following the tips above can leave some sense of security that you're not handing over your information on a silver platter.

With knowledge of the best background check companies and tactics, Jane Smith provides vital information and tips throughout her blogs. Email her your thoughts or concerns at janesmith161 at gmail dot com.

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