7 Tips on Preventing Identity Theft

In the course of the day, you do many activities that put your personal information at risk – from writing a check at the store to charging merchandise in person or over the phone. You may not think twice about these transactions, but others might.

Identity theft – when a perpetrator assumes someone’s identity for personal or financial gain, like stealing a credit card to make financial transactions in the victim’s name – is the fastest-growing crime in America.

According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, there were almost 10 million cases of identity theft in 2004, which cost consumers $5 billion.

The National Citizens’ Crime Prevention Campaign, sponsored by the National Crime Prevention Council, aims to educate consumers about what they can do to prevent identity theft. The council offers the following tips.

* Do not give out your personal information unless you initiate the contact or know the person or company with whom you are dealing. Also, never disclose personal information, such as a Social Security number or bank account number, in response to an email. Legitimate businesses will not ask you to do this.

* Do not disclose your credit card number to an online vendor unless it is encrypted and the site is secure. Look at the first part of the Web address on your browser. It should read “https://.”

* Do not write your Social Security number or telephone number on checks or credit card receipts.

* Remove all documents with personal information from your hard drive before discarding your computer or sending it in for repair.

* Shred discarded documents, including preapproved credit card applications, bank statements, store receipts and utility bills. “Dumpster divers” can gain access to your personal information if such items are thrown in the trash.

* Cancel all credit cards that have not been used in the last six months. Open credit is a prime target for thieves.

* Order your credit report at least twice a year and report any mistakes to the credit reporting agency in writing.

If you are a victim of identity theft, contact your local police department as soon as possible. If your identity was stolen in one jurisdiction but used in another, you may have to report the crime in both jurisdictions.

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Banks, Loans & How To Save Big Bucks

When shopping around for a loan, whether it be auto, home or consolidation, most individuals turn toward banks for the money that they need. There are a number of factors that can determine how much, or how little, money you can save.

Are you familiar with your credit report and FICO score? If not, you should be. Visit annualcreditreport.com to receive a free copy of your credit report, from each of the three credit reporting agencies, once every 12 months. Typically, these reports are $9.00 each but many consumers do not realize that they are entitled to a free copy every year. There are no catches, no gimmicks and no trial period in any type of paid service in order to gain access through this website. The information contained in your credit file is one of the top factors in determining your loan amount, interest rate and ultimately a decision as to approval or denying the loan request. Everyone should be familiar with their credit report, verify the accuracy of their contents and correct any mistakes that are present. The FICO score is a number that is calculated based on previous payment history, debt to balance ratio and length of credit history. The higher your FICO score, the lower your interest rates.

During the loan application process, banks will retrieve a copy of your credit report. They will also request certain other information, which only you can provide. Among the items that banks request when processing a loan application include current pay stubs, a copy of the previous two years of tax returns and possibly even bank statements and proof of employment. When applying for a large loan, patience is the key. Some banks respond within 24 hours while others may take up to a week. Even if one bank denies your request, don’t give up. Try other banks, who may be enticed to extend a loan in hopes of gaining you as a future customer.

These days, there are loan opportunities for practically everyone. No credit, bad credit, slow credit. You name it and there are banks out there who want your business, but there may be a catch. Depending on your credit history, you may end up spending more than twice as much in interest as someone with a spotless credit record.

Some banks do not specialize in large loans, such as home and auto, but rather extend smaller lines of credit to consumers. These lenders typically issue credit cards to those who are approved. While your credit history does play a large role in determining your interest rates with credit cards, it does not determine other miscellaneous fees. Certain fees, which are charged by banks issuing credit cards, are blanket fees issued to everyone who carries a line of credit. Late fees, overlimit fees and annual fees are among the miscellaneous fees charged by many credit card companies. Avoid banks that charge excessive fees upfront and reduce a large amount of your available credit with said fees. With credit cards, keep in mind that interest rates can skyrocket after only one missed payment. You will save a lot of money by paying on time, every time and by keeping your credit card debt to a minimum.

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