Don’t make it so easy for thieves to steal your identity

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Identity theft is a rapidly growing crime. If you didn’t get a paper shredder for Christmas, you might want to buy one, suggests a family economics and financial management educator in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“One way to stop “dumpster divers” is to shred papers that contain private information,” said Marilyn Furry, associate professor of extension education.

“Thieves are looking for Social Security numbers, birth dates and other personal information to apply for credit cards, make purchases and take out loans – using your name.”

Furry suggests ways to avoid this type of fraud:

* Tear – or better, shred – personal papers, receipts, pre-approved credit card applications and junk mail.

* Don’t discuss personal information or make credit card purchases by pay or cell phone.

* Deal with reputable businesses. Employees at banks, shops and restaurants can steal customer information.

* Examine your credit card and bank statements as soon as you receive them. If you see unauthorized charges, contact the financial institution or business immediately.

* Check your credit reports annually. Copies can be ordered for $8.50 each from Equifax, 800-685-1111; Experian, 888-397-3742; or Trans Union, 800-916-8800. * Don’t give out your Social Security number. The Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration and some state motor vehicle departments require a Social Security number. If your wallet is stolen, the thief has access to this number and entry to your personal accounts.

* Protect yourself when shopping, banking and communicating on the Internet.

“Be suspicious of offers on Web sites or in e-mails that are too good to be true,” Furry said.

To be sure a Web site is an honest business, contact a federal or state consumer protection agency.

Many sites display a seal from the Better Business Bureau (www.betterbusinessbureau.com), American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (www.aicpa.org) or TRUSTe (www.truste.org), a group that addresses concerns about online privacy.

“You also should read the site’s privacy policy to be sure the information you send is being encrypted so it can’t be read by others,” Furry said. “Keep your passwords and PIN numbers private and secure.”

Report suspected Internet fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) toll-free at 877-438-4338. The FTC also maintains the U.S. government’s Web site on identity theft at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

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