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How can I Avoid Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a frightening prospect, but there are steps you can take to lessen your risk of falling victim to it. One of the best ways to avoid identity theft is to keep your Social Security number private. Don't give the number out unless you have to and you know who you are giving it to. Always ask if you can give other information instead, or possibly just the last four digit of your Social Security number. If an identity thief gets your Social Security number, it is very easy to open credit card accounts — and worse — in your name.

An easy way to avoid identity theft is to invest in a shredder. A lot of sensitive personal information can be found in someone's trash. Bills, receipts, bank statements, or loan applications can be used to steal your identity. Make sure you shred anything with your Social Security number, and never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.

Change passwords and PINs frequently to help avoid identity theft. Make sure you don't use passwords or PINs that are easy to guess, such as names or birth dates. Never write your PIN on your credit or debit card — it sounds obvious, but people do it!

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Check credit card statements carefully. Each month, when your statement comes in the mail, check it to make sure that all of the transactions are accurate and that there are no unauthorized charges. To avoid identity theft, report any lost or stolen credit cards immediately. Never share your credit cards with anyone!

It may not avoid identity theft, but checking your credit rating can alert you to anything suspicious that may have come up. The three national credit reporting agencies in the United States — Experian, Equifax, and Transunion — are required to provide one free credit report per year for anyone who requests it.

If you do become a victim of identity theft, contact the police and file a police report immediately. A police report will be necessary to file identity theft claims with credit card companies.

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