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Ask the experts: How can I prevent identity theft?

May 08, 2010

Q. What steps can people take to prevent identity theft?

A. Washington County Sheriff Department Cpl. Jim Holsinger, an adviser with SALT (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together), highlighted one overlooked idea.

Most people are careful with their personal information - their Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and so on. But there is one place where these numbers are sometimes readily available: the curb in front of their house.

"Your trash - until it's buried in the landfill, it's a vulnerability," Holsinger said. "It's not just trash on the curb. Shred it. That makes you a harder target."

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He advised people to get a good-quality shredder, one that can shred even credit cards.

Things to shred: out-of-date financial statements, old health insurance statements, phone records, credit card solicitations that read "You are pre-approved!" - anything that contains personal information.

"Any financial papers that you no longer need to keep should be shredded," Holsinger said. Check with your banker or financial adviser on how long to keep personal records, he added.

If a person suspects they are the victim of identity theft, Holsinger said, they should contact their local law enforcement officials. The first step to recovering money is reporting that a crime has taken place.

But prevention is better than remediation.

"Do what you can do to destroy the opportunity of people getting into your life," he said.

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