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Identity thieves ruin lives: Protect yourself

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Last year 10 million Americans were victims of the fastest-growing crime in the country. The number of identity thefts has been doubling every year since 2000.

Sometimes people don't know what happened until they find big charges they didn't make on credit cards, begin getting calls from debt collectors, or get a summons to go to court for crimes they didn't commit.

To reduce your chances of being victimized:

* Never give your Social Security number or personal information over the telephone unless you initiate the call.

* Shred or burn bank and credit card statements, cancelled checks, preapproved credit card offers, and bills with account information.

* Don't put checks and bills into the mailbox and put the flag up. It's easy to steal from a mailbox.

* Check your credit reports. Look for a change of address or a new account you didn't open. Cancel accounts you don't use or rarely use. Thieves love open credit.

* Check your bank accounts frequently for suspicious activity.

* Be careful at ATMs. Someone could be looking over your shoulder to get your account and PIN numbers.

* If you use a computer at home, install firewall software.

* Memorize your PIN numbers and passwords. Never write them down.

Thieves can get information in many places. Information is stored in computer databases that are a gold mine for thieves. Criminals can use the Internet to make purchases, robbing the victim without face-to-face contact.

Long Island Money & Careers Articles > Identity thieves ruin lives: Protect yourself

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