You can take proactive steps, now, to reduce the chances that your identity will be stolen. Taking a few simple steps can save you a tremendous amount of time and personal agony.

One of the first steps is to monitor your credit report with the three major credit reporting agencies. Consumers have the right to obtain one free copy per year. The stakes are high. You should do so.

Get a copy of your records from each credit reporting agency. There is the very real possibility that different information can appear on each report. Examine the reports and look for any erroneous accounts, charges or balances. Any anomaly could indicate that a serious mistake has been made or that someone has already assumed your identity.

Another step that you can take is safe-guarding copies of your bills and transactions. Copies of statements that have been tossed in the trash are a treasure trove for identity thieves. They can “dumpster dive” and get enough valuable information to run up charges and to expand the thoroughness of stealing your complete identity. Shred your personal bills, address labels and any unsolicited credit card offers from companies.

You must also be extremely careful how you interact with the world on the Internet. Place the most robust Internet security package that you can identify on your computer. Use it. Update all software with the latest patches when they become available. Avoid giving out personal information on line. Identity thieves are so good that they can send you an exact duplicate of your bank’s computer screen and the request would look totally legitimate. You could innocently give-up information that would enable identity theft. Call the company if you are suspicious to determine the legitimacy of the request.

Immediately report any identity theft that you uncover. File what is known as an Identity Theft Report which consists of the Federal Trade Commission’s ID theft complaint and a local law enforcement crime report. Contact the merchants with whom any erroneous charges were made. You might want to consider initiating what is known as a “fraud alert” with the credit reporting agencies.

Avoid giving out your Social Security Number, passwords or any other PIN (Personal Identification Number). Professional identity thieves can be very good “con artists”. They can make any request seem extremely legitimate. ID thieves on the Internet frequently use what is known as “phishing” schemes to defraud unsuspecting individuals.

Report any stolen or lost credit or bankcards immediately to the company who issued them to you. Follow the counsel of the companies to whom you report the loss. Closing the accounts and keeping documentation that you did so would be wise. Make sure you take note of the name(s) of the people with whom you speak and the dates. Ask the credit card issuers to give you a new card with a different number.

Take special care to protect your driver’s license. Its loss can be a major enabler for a thief to commit fraud if it is lost or the information is copied. Like your Social Security card your driver’s license can be the “keys to the kingdom. Notify the state agency where you live as soon as possible if you lose your driver’s license.

Consider purchasing a service that could monitor your identity and alert you in the event that a breach occurs. There are a number of these companies and you can learn about them on the Internet.

Defend the confidentiality and integrity of your personal identity or your vulnerabilities related to identity theft are dramatically increased. Be proactive rather than being lax and having your identity stolen which can be devastating for you and your family for years to come.

Learn more about computer security by downloading Dr. William Perry’s FREE ebook, “How to Secure Your Computer”. Just access the web site, and click on the “FREE eBook” link.

Dr. Perry is the owner of Alliant Digital Services which publishes the Computer Security Glossary. Alliant Digital Services provide high quality information security guidance to individuals and organizations that must plan for the protection of mission critical information in an asymmetric threat environment while complying with industrial- strength information security standards (i.e. COBIT, ISO 27000, FISMA, HIPAA, EPHI and the new HITECH Act).

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