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Oscar Dominguez: Taking steps to prevent identity theft

Posted: February 24, 2009 11:43 p.m.
Updated: February 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Identity theft is among the fastest growing crimes in the nation.

It is estimated that 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Santa Clarita Valley residents can help protect their identity by being aware of the various ways personal information can be stolen and taking steps to protect themselves from this mounting epidemic. Some tips to help you protect your identity include:

  • Shredding important personal documents, including old credit card statements, checks, pre-approved credit applications, bank and other personal records is one of the easiest ways to help protect your identity. Rummaging through mailboxes, trash cans and even recycling bins is common among those looking to commit an identity-theft crime, so it is wise to use a cross-cut shredder on all documents containing your personal information. Consider buying a locked mailbox for incoming mail, and when mailing a letter, bill payments or other important mail, consider dropping it off inside your local post office.
  • Keep personal information private. Be aware of phishing scams that try to bait you into providing your personal and financial information with pop-up messages or e-mails that appear to be from a legitimate business asking you to verify your account information. If you need to make contact with a company, call the number on your financial statements.
  • Protect yourself online. Computer hacking is on the rise and hackers may be able to obtain your personal information with a few key strokes if you don’t protect yourself with antivirus, firewall and antispyware protection on your computers. Keep all software current and update it regularly. Make sure to also secure your wireless computer network to prevent hackers from gaining access.
  • Monitor your credit report and bank statements regularly. Reviewing your credit report annually and examining your bank and credit card statements often can help alert you to any potential red flags.
  • Change your passwords often.  Consider using mixed letter cases for passwords and using a variety of passwords for different accounts. If you have trouble remembering the different passwords, write down hints or questions that only you will know and store the information in a secure location.
  • Initiate banking alerts. Work with your bank representatives or trusted financial advisor to monitor your accounts on an ongoing basis. Consider asking your financial institution if an e-mail or text message alert can be sent to you when your account withdrawals reach certain levels.
  • Consider ID-theft protection. There are many resources to help protect your identity and just about every credit card company now offers ID theft protection of some sort. ID theft protection may help you prevent ID-theft and/or provide help with credit repair should the unfortunate occur. You may also want to consider “unlisting” your personal information and mailing address to help reduce junk mail and credit card offers.
Oscar Dominguez is vice president and branch manager of the Stevenson Ranch branch of Union Bank and the Valencia Bank & Trust branch. Visit www.unionbank.com for more information. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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