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Tip #9: Practice Safe Banking, Safe Computing, and Safe Business Practices.

To stay safe from identity theft, always follow safe banking and financial practices:

1) Keep account numbers and PIN numbers safe.  Cover your account and PIN numbers when using debit at the store and refuse to give your PIN number to anyone. Avoid writing down your PIN and account numbers - you never know when this information could fall into the wrong hands.

2) Only do business with businesses you trust.

3)If you get applications for credit cards in the mail that are “pre-approved” rip up the applications and enclosed letters before discarding them.  No, this is not paranoid. Identity thieves sometimes go through garbage in order to find these forms so that they can fill them out and steal your identity.

4) If you use a computer, install good firewall and antivirus protection system and update it religiously.  Better yet, take a course in safe computing at your local college or community center.  You will learn many good tips for keeping all your information safe while you are online.

5) Never buy anything online from a company you do not trust of from a company that does not have encryption technology and a good privacy policy.

6) Even with all computer precautions, avoid providing private information through email or your computer.  Be especially cautious if you get an email from your bank asking you to verify your information by clicking on a link - this is a popular scam that comes not from your bank but from criminals posing as your bank.  Ignore the email and phone your bank about the message.

7) Be wary of unsolicited emails, phone calls, or mail advertisements.  Most are from legitimate companies but there are companies who promise you a credit card over the telephone only to charge your existing credit card without sending you anything. 

Similarly, letters will sometimes promise you specific items or services.  Once you send in your credit card information (usually to a post office box) you hear no more from the company.  If you need or want to buy something from a company, be sure to check the company’s standing with the Better Business Bureau first. 

Send a money order instead of a check (which had your account number) or your credit card information.  If you do use a credit card, report any unusual charges or any payments you made for a product that did not arrive to the credit card company. 

In some cases, they can stop payment or refund your money as well as take steps to keep your credit card number safe.

8) Be wary of offers that seem too good to be true.  If you get an offer for a ten million dollar check - for which you need to put down $5000 as a “sign if good faith”...if you get an offer for a free state-of-the art computer - if only you provide your account information... take a deep breath and consider before sending in your money and your information. 

Offers that are too good to be true always are.  Scam artists often rely on your belief in others and your trust to make money.  They depend on the fact that you will be so excited about a product or service that you will throw good judgment out the window.  Prove them wrong. 

When faced with an offer that seems too good to be true, do some research on the web, through the Better Business Bureau, or ask the person making the offer some questions. Never take someone up on an offer that you have been given unsolicited unless the company and the offer both check out.

9) Read the fine print.  Some services or companies will have tiny print in their contract or agreement that allows them to charge you extra hidden fees or that allows them to retract certain offers.  If you get an offer through email or the mail, make it a habit to read the fine print.

10) Be alert for a sudden disruption in your mail service.  If you do not get mail for some time, contact your post office and ask whether your address was recently submitted for a “change of address” service.  It sounds strange, but it’s true. 

One way that criminals steal identities is to change your address at the local post office.  They redirect your mail to a post office box number and steal your mail looking for personal information such as bank statements, pre-approved credit card applications, and other pieces of mail they can use to steal your identity. 

They use this information to pose as you with lenders and run up huge charges in your name. Simply keeping an eye out on your mail can help you keep your credit score safe.

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