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Three Steps to Prevent Identity Theft

April 4, 2009

You may be smart enough not to completely ruin your financial future while you’re still in your 20’s, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t beat you to it.  Identity theft occurs about once every three minutes and it can take years and lots of hard-earned dollars to resolve.

Maybe you’ve seen those commercials for LifeLock, with the guy posting his Social Security Number on a mobile billboard.  What you may not know is that douchebag had his identity stolen after those commercials began airing, but more importantly,  the primary services LifeLock provides for a monthly fee are actually free if you have about five minutes every three months.

Here are three steps to protect yourself against identity theft without paying someone to constantly monitor your movements:

1.  Get copies of your free credit reports.
There are three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax).  You’ll want to go to www.annualcreditreport.com, which is the free site to get your reports from all three credit bureaus.  Federal law requires bureaus to give you a free copy of your report once every twelve months, so if you haven’t already seen this past year’s reports, get them now.  Then survey them closely for any suspicious or unauthorized accounts.

2.  Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports.
This is a pre-emptive measure which requires a quick phone call to just one of the bureaus.  What you’re doing is requiring any credit-granting body (i.e. department stores, mortgage lenders, etc.) to contact you in writing in order to establish a line of credit.

Placing the fraud alert on your credit report will also reduce and probably eliminate the number of credit card and insurance offers you receive in your postal mail, which is often the easiest and most widely used way for identity thieves to steal your information.

While you may not be automatically be approved for an in-store credit card once you’ve placed the alert on your reports, most stores will still give you the additional discounts that come with such offers.  And if they don’t, talk to a store manager and describe your situation until you do receive the discount.

3.  Stop the junk mail by registering at http://www.donotmail.org.
Junk mail is a useless pain-in-the-ass that is also a waste of resources.  Register at DoNotMail and your junk mail should be significantly reduced in just a few weeks.

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