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Guest Columnist - Diane Miller

Guard personal info during the holiday season

    “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” These words should bring joy to each one, but they can ring a sour note if you happen to be the victim of identity theft! In the course of the holiday season you will write checks, charge to your credit cards, mail bills, call home on your cell phones, order new checks or maybe even apply for another credit card. Chances are you don’t give these everyday transactions a second thought. But someone else may.
    This year the increase in identity theft is astounding. Shoppers must beware of unseen thieves who often go undetected as they quietly steal our most precious commodity … our identity. Can you completely prevent identity theft from occurring? Probably not, especially if someone is determined to commit the crime. But you can minimize your risk by managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with heightened sensitivity.
    Before you reveal any personal identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information: can you choose to have it kept confidential?
    Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
    Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered.
    Ask to have passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of you Social Security number (SSN) or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
    Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you’ll actually need. And above all, do not write identifying information such as your pin number on your cards.
    Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother’s maiden name, financial account numbers and other identifying information. Legitimate organizations with whom you do business have the information they need and will not ask you for it.
    Keep items with personal information in a safe place. To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and statements that you are discarding, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.
    Be cautious about where you leave personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employed outside help or are having service work done in your home.
    Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
    Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ever had someone read out your drivers license number in line at the grocery store as they enter it in the register? This is especially dangerous if your SSN number is the same as your drivers license number. New drivers license numbers are now being given in place of the SSN.

    For more information on family issues contact Diane at (912) 871-0504, dianem@uga.
edu or www.ugaextension.com/
bulloch.

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