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Steps to prevent thieves from hijacking your identity

September 05, 2004

Even the Federal Trade Commission concedes that people probably can't entirely prevent identity theft.

But risk can be reduced if personal information is carefully managed.

· Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus and make sure it's accurate and contains only activities authorized by you.

· Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts, avoiding easily available information such as your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

· Make sure your personal information is secure in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.

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· Ask about information security procedures in your workplace. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that records are kept in a secure location. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well.

· Be aware of billing cycles and check charges to your credit card accounts.

· Shred statements, credit card receipts and preapproved credit card applications.

· If you're mailing a payment, make sure to use a security envelope so that account numbers can't be seen easily.

· If your credit or debit card is lost or stolen, immediately report it and have it shut down.

- Sources: Federal Trade Commission Web site, www.ftc.gov; Christina Sandeen, director of Fraud Early Warning, and Jeff Bashore, operations manager, Identity Theft Solutions department at Citicorp Credit Services Inc. in Hagerstown

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