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The reality is staggering: identity theft is the fastest growing crime in North America, affecting nearly 10 million Americans a year.

We see these stories in the news everyday: they are cases involving unauthorized purchases on credit cards and debit card skimming. Impersonators fraudulently use an individual’s personal identifying information to set up new accounts, open lines of credit, mortgages, and even government benefits. What is worse, the victims often have no idea what has happened until they are turned down for credit, which can occur months or even years after the infraction has taken place.

The good news is that if you know the facts and some preventive measures you can take, you can protect yourself against identity theft.

Identity thieves can obtain your information in many ways:

  • Stealing wallets, purses, or mail
  • Completing a “change of address” form to divert your mail to another location
  • “Dumpster Diving” for documents with personal information
  • “Skimming” or using special storage devices to steal your credit or debit card number when they process your card
  • “Phishing” or sending e-mails that appear to be from legitimate businesses, asking for customer’s personal information
  • Stealing files from businesses where they are a customer or employee, or by hacking into electronic files

How You Can Protect Yourself

  • Keep your personal information safe. Don’t carry your social security card, bank account PIN or other sensitive information with you. Leave it at home in a secure place. Also, thieves will pick through your garbage and recycling bins, so be sure to shred all letters, statements and documents containing any personal information.
  • Keep your personal information confidential. Don’t give out your personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you initiated the contact and feel 100% confident that you can trust this individual. And never give out your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary!
  • Memorize important passwords or get an app to do it for you! You may think that you are being organized by writing your passwords down and leaving them in your wallet or on a sticky note at work–but don’t sacrifice safety for convenience! Either memorize your most important passwords or make use of new technological advances that allow you to keep passwords on your smart phone. These apps are free and easy to use – and a thief would have to get through two passwords to get to this information (the password on your phone and the password granting access to the app). Try the “Password Keeper” app on an Android or iPhone,
  • Guard your wallet. Your wallet is a gold mine for thieves trying to steal your identity, containing multiple forms of i.d., not to mention direct access to your banking information. Do not leave your wallet lying around!
  • Protect your mail. Be sure to bring in your mail every single day and be fastidious about having the post office put it on hold if you will be away for a long vacation. Don’t just have your neighbor leave it on a pile on your front door!
  • Review your financial statements regularly. Often times, identity thefts are so clever, they can mask accessing (and ultimately stealing) your information by making the transaction appear to be an expensive prize you have won or a trip- but in order to claim it, you have to send a deposit. Never conduct financial transactions with strangers and make sure that you can understand all transactions and on goings with your financial statements.