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With more and more people shopping online and the holidays fast approaching, now is a good time to make sure you are educated on identity theft prevention so it doesn't happen to you.

The ingle most effective weapon in the fight against identity theft is awareness. There are a few simple steps –outlined below-that will go a long way to protecting your identity both online and offline.

Tips – Prevent Identity Theft

Shred it. Most information is acquired by would-be thieves when they trash pick through your garbage. It might sound gross to you, but trash pickers don’t care, they have one goal in mind and that is – to find your bills, credit card statements and other financial documents. But, they can’t get to these personal papers if you properly dispose of them by shredding them before tossing them.

Read your statements. For most of my bills, I get paperless statements. This is good on the one hand. But I can honestly say, it has made me a little lazy in going over my statements. But, it is important to check each statement to verify there is no unusual activity or purchases. The earlier the theft is caught, the quicker it will be resolved.

Privacy in numbers. Credit card numbers should not be included on checks or written on envelopes. Most importantly, don’t give your account information over the phone unless you are the one that made the call in the first place.

Free credit report. Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus, once a year, under federal law. You can easily do so by visiting:

Deal with brand names. Whenever possible deal with brand names that you know and have come to trust such as or When dealing with smaller companies that you’ve never done business with its important to look for the name, company and registration details. After you verify the company’s identification, ensure the company has a good online reputation. A simple Google search will likely provide negative reviews if there are any.

Privacy policy. Take the time to read the site’s privacy policy. Reputable companies disclose how they collect data from you and what they do with it.

Secure sites. Before putting in your personal information to complete a purchase, make sure your credit card details will be processed through a secure connection. The most common form is Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL. It encrypts data and breaks it into smaller pieces so the information can’t be read by anyone else. As a consumer, it’s important to know the policy for online fraud protection that is offered by your credit card company. Many companies have this protection but it varies from company to company.

Spam email. The best business laptop and the best home computer are only as good as the user. Simply put, protect your computer and private information by running appropriate Adaware and Spyware programs. Also, and this one is a big one, don’t click any links contained in an email no matter how authentic the email looks and how tempting it may be. If eBay or PayPal or even your bank want to tell you something, you will be notified next time you login to your account. All personal information needs to be secured online as well as offline. Carrying important documents regularly, such as your social security card around, isn’t a good idea.

The FTC has compiled a collection of easy-to-use documents that will assist everyone in understanding identity theft regardless of their level of knowing about identity theft.

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