New Page About Paid Services

We put up a new page today.

This page has a small list of companies that offer paid identity theft help and services to individuals in the U.S.

These services offer credit and personal information monitoring, alerts and notifications, and recovery assistance, in case you become a victim of ID theft.

Many individuals just don’t have the time to monitor their own personal and financial details the way these companies can do it. They have tools, automation programs and the experience necessary to get the work done quickly.

Here is that new list of services page.

Some of the companies we discuss there include LifeLock, Identity Force, Identity Guard and Trusted ID.

Each of these services charge a monthly fee.

No service can completely guarantee that you will never become a victim of identity theft.

Watch Your Mail

When you receive mail or an email from a company you do business with, take a few moments to read it. Sometimes it might be important.

What you are most interested in are correspondence that notifies you that your account details have been changed.

Whenever someone changes their phone number, address, email address or other important, fundamental detail of their account, most companies will send off a letter or email notifying the account owner of this change in case that the owner did not actually initiate this change.

This is a valuable precaution that these companies take in order to help protect you. If someone else has somehow gained access to your account and has tried to change your details, this email will notify you of it and prompt you to stop it from happening.

Also be sure to open up and activate any new credit cards or debit cards as soon as you get them. Don’t wait.

Keep your old card for a week or two until you are sure that there are no problems with the newly received card. Problems do happen sometimes. Sometimes banks send out the wrong card or the wrong type of card.

When your new card is working fine, figure out a way to destroy your old one in a manner that guarantees that no one else will be able to figure out your card number.

And when you get those credit card offers in the mail, try to shred the main part of the offer form instead of simply throwing the entire letter into the recycling bin.

If you’re getting too many of those offers, you can opt out of receiving so many by having your name placed on the do not mail list of OptOutPreScreen.com.

Also consider the security of your incoming and outgoing mail situation. You want to prevent anyone from tampering with the mail you receive and send.

There isn’t too much you can do about the security of your incoming mail.

If you have had items stolen from your mailbox before, you could arrange to have your mail held at the post office and then go there to pick it up, but that is a major inconvenience.

If you are ordering checks from your bank for your checking account, you may not want them to go to your home mailbox if you have had problems before. Many banks will allow your new checks to be sent to your local bank branch and you could then pick them up there.

Protecting your outgoing mail is something you can control and should consider. Don’t place important outgoing mail into a non-secure mail pick up spot.

For example, if you are returning an invoice from a medical clinic and you are including your credit card number as payment on the bill, you don’t want to simply place that envelope in the outgoing mail tray that sits on the reception desk at your office.

While the odds are pretty good that nothing bad will happen, your job is to make those odds even better. You don’t want someone to lift that envelope out of the tray when nobody is looking.

You should think about your home mailbox situation as well. If you don’t think your outgoing mail is 100% safe there — do something about it.

Find a secure USPS letter drop box where you can drop in your important mail. It’s a little inconvenient, but it could be well worth it.

Don’t Click Links

When the Internet was first put together, the hyperlink method was kind of a genius idea to help users get around the Internet without having to remember and type web addresses and long strings of letters.

Links are still great, but they can be used by bad guys to get you to go someplace where you really don’t want to go.

You need to be cautious while you’re connected to the Web and clicking on links included in emails you receive.

It’s possible that some of these emails you get are phishing emails.

A phishing email attempts to look like it’s from a legitimate company, preferably a company that you know or already have a relationship with. This email tries to get you to click on a link, visit what you think is the legitimate company’s website and then attempt to log in to your account.

When you attempt to log in, the phishing emailer records your login and password and will attempt to use those details to later get into your account at the real company’s website.

Fortunately, many of these phishing attempts are poorly done. You can often easily spot the spelling and grammatical errors in the email that a legitimate company would never allow to be sent in a professional email. Many of these emails are written by non-English speakers (and you can tell).

Plus, in most cases, you won’t even have a relationship or account with the company the email is purporting to be from.

But once in a while, you may get an email that is well-written and mentions a company that you do have a relationship with. So you may have questions regarding its authenticity.

If you receive an email that you are unsure about, don’t click on any link that’s in that email. Simply go to your account and log in the way you normally would if you wouldn’t have ever received the email. That will guarantee that you are accessing the company’s actual secure website.

You should also be cautious of links contained in emails that appear to be from a friend.

Bad guys can find email addresses of people and then send out emails to their friend list. These emails can contain links to bad locations.

If the email and the link seem unusual, you don’t have to click on it. It might not be from your friend after all.

Be Wary of Contacts

If you get a phone call from someone who says they work for a government agency, bank, collection agency, medical clinic billing department or other organization and they are asking you for personal information, you should be somewhat wary.

They may not be who they say they are.

The IRS, for example, does not request financial details or information over the telephone.

If you get a call from someone who says they work with the IRS, unless you are having a specific case or ongoing relationship with them, that caller is not from the IRS.

The IRS still works via old-fashioned mail to deliver their notices and other information.

If you are on the phone with someone you don’t trust and they are asking for personal information, especially if they are aggressive with you, you can always ask for their phone number and say you’ll call them back.

It’s possible that the caller is legitimate, but you need to be cautious.

If the caller is legitimate, they won’t mind your cautiousness either. They’ll understand.

Public Computers and Non Secure Access

Using non-secure Internet Wi-Fi or shared public computers that you can find in public libraries, hotel lobbies, car dealer waiting areas and other public spots sure can be convenient, but using them does come with some risks.

Free wireless Wi-Fi networks are not password protected and are not secure connections. You should be cautious when you are using them.

Since you are sharing these networks with others, it’s possible that someone could be snooping into what you are doing.

You should limit your exposure by keeping your usage to just casual Web browsing and not visiting important sites that require you to log in with a password.

And don’t access financial or serious sites, like your bank account, from one of these hotspots or public computers.

If you are prompted to update software while you’re on one of these public networks, don’t do it. Just wait until you get home to run any updates.

When you travel, it’s not a bad idea to ask the hotel front desk for the name of their Wi-Fi system. ID thieves have been know to put up fake networks while they are staying at a hotel and then try to trick other guests into logging into their network instead of the hotel’s network.

Shared public computers carry the added risk of containing malware or keystroke logging software that bad guys have installed on them.

You can certainly use these PCs for casual browsing, but just don’t log in to any website where you really want to keep your password a secret (just in case).

Freeze Your Credit Accounts

You can decide to put a freeze on your credit report.

Putting a freeze on your credit report means that when some company asks one of the three credit bureaus for a copy of your credit file so that they can determine if you are a worthwhile credit risk, that credit bureau will refuse their request.

If the company can’t review your credit file, they won’t agree to extend credit to you. This helps protect you from having others open unauthorized accounts in your name. Thieves won’t be able to establish new bogus accounts.

While the freeze is in effect, you are still able to do all the financial things that you want to do, such as refinance a mortgage, get a new credit card or apply for a new job, but you must ask the credit reporting bureau to temporarily lift the freeze for whichever company will be contacting them.

In order to initiate the freeze, you will need to contact each of the three companies separately.

Each state determines whether or not the reporting company can charge a fee for this service and how much the fee is.

Freezing your account doesn’t last indefinitely. Individual state regulations also decide how long the freeze lasts.

You can also permanently lift the freeze at any time by recontacting each agency.

Placing a credit freeze works well in preventing some cases of ID theft, but it involves a little time, effort and usually a small expense.

Secure Your Email

Since we correspond so much with email, it’s important that we keep our email account safe and secure.

The best way to keep it secure is to not give it out to anyone. But that basically defeats the purpose of having it in the first place.

So the second best tactic is to limit who you give it to. And how do you do that? By having more than one email address.

You could have one email address that you use for your serious and important contacts. You will limit this email to just your banks, employers, credit card companies and other critical businesses and organizations.

This will be your most secure account.

You will access this only from your home computer. You will not log into it from any unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot in any public place. You will need to be disciplined about this.

And you won’t give this email out to friends or casual acquaintances or other organizations. You won’t receive many emails from this email either.

By limiting the number of people who know about this email, and by accessing it only from a secure location (your home), you will be keeping the entire account secure.

You’ll also have a second email address that will be used as your main email account. This is the address you’ll be giving out to your friends and most other parties.

This is where most of your email will come to. This is the address you will be probably accessing several times each day.

If this account becomes compromised, it won’t be the end of the world. It’ll be inconvenient, but it won’t hurt financially.

Some people will also have a third email. This email will be somewhat temporary.

People will use this email in situations where they are using unsecure Wi-Fi or public computers or when signing up for something and an email address needs to be entered but you aren’t interested in actually receiving any future email coming to that address.

There are a few different companies who offer these free, disposable email accounts.

Keep Accounts Up To Date

It’s important that every financial institution that you do business with has your correct contact information.

This includes banks, investment companies, insurance companies, retailers where you have charge cards, former employers that you have retirement accounts with, and any other important organization.

By having your current physical address, email address and phone number, these organizations will let you know when a change to your account has been initiated.

Companies will send you an email or physical email stating that your email, physical address or phone number has been changed and let you know how to reply to them if this change was not authorized by you.

You need to make sure that you are in a position to receive any correspondence from these organizations regarding fundamental changes to your account.

If someone is trying to change the contact details of one of your accounts, you need to know about it and stop it.

Keeping your contact info up to date will make sure that you are notified.

Watch What You Discard

Okay, so it’s a really remote possibility that someone is going to rummage through your home’s garbage or paper recycling looking to find personal or financial details they could use to hurt you financially, but it could happen.

More likely, however, someone might come across your personal details through recycling bins at your work or at the workplace of companies you do business with.

Still, it’s a good idea to shred personal papers instead of simply recycling them.

Some of the most important papers to shred include credit card statements, insurance papers, bank statements, credit card receipts, credit applications and even unsolicited credit card offers that arrive in the mail with your name already on them.

You can shred as much as you like. It’s kind of cathartic. It’s almost fun.

If you receive mail at work, don’t just throw any detailed mail into the office recycling either. Don’t put something juicy into the office recycling that someone else might take out and read.

Put any important mail into your purse or bag and take it back home to shred.

And if you are recycling electronics, such as a computer or smart phone, you need to do something before you drop it off at Best Buy or wherever else you are taking it.

Be sure to get rid of any data that is on your computer’s hard drive before you recycle it.

Simply deleting all of your hard drive’s files isn’t enough. Deleted files are actually still on your computer, they are just not labeled. A professional can still recover all those deleted files.

You should find a way to write over those files or destroy them. You can either purchase a program that will write over your entire drive or you could physically open up your computer and take out your hard drive and destroy it.

Use the same caution when getting rid of your smart phone as well. You phone’s manufacturer will have guidelines on how to safely replace your device.

Don’t just throw it into a bin someplace without thinking about it first.

Be Secure Online

If you’re going to use your computer to send personal information and details, make sure you are doing your best to prevent bad guys from knowing what you are doing.

You have to put anti-spyware and anti-virus software on your computer.

You don’t have to purchase software. There are a few really good free programs you can use. But you have to make sure that you have a good program installed and activated.

Most anti-virus software will automatically stay updated, but you may have to manually keep other programs updated to remain secure. These updates will come from Microsoft or Apple, Adobe (Flash and Shockwave) and Oracle (Java). Just make a point to do it.

And be sure to regularly scan your computer to look for malware and viruses. Most software will regularly and automatically do this, but your computer will have to be turned on for these scans to actually take place.

If your computer is off a lot of the time, you may have to manually start these scans.

You also need to watch where you are browsing on the Web.

Be careful when visiting websites that you haven’t visited before, especially if you’re going to adult sites or they deal with something that is either illegal or almost illegal in the USA.

Some bad websites will attempt to install adware or spyware on your computer. Good virus protection software will usually help to warn you and stop the program from installing on your computer, but the bad guys are getting smarter all the time, so you just have to be on guard.

Protect Your Computer

Most likely, there is a lot of important stuff on your computer. You need to prevent that computer from being lost or stolen.

Fortunately, most of the people who might pick up your computer are not really interested with what is on your computer, they just want to turn it into some quick cash.

But it can be a big problem if your computer falls into the hands of someone who is interested with what is on it. In these situations, simply replacing your computer may be the least of your worries.

At the very least, don’t leave your computer sitting somewhere where it tempts someone to grab it and run. Unfortunately, there are desperate people out there — don’t tempt them with your laptop.

Besides being cautious, your best strategy is to have more than one computer. If you have a second or third computer, you have some options when it comes to security.

For example, you can use a desktop PC or other computer just at home. This is the computer you would use for your serious activities such as doing your taxes, logging into your bank accounts and shopping.

This computer doesn’t leave the house, so the likelihood of it ever being stolen or lost is minimal.

Your second computer can be the one that you haul around with you outside the house. You use this one for your less serious activities such as casual web browsing, reading email, watching videos and going on Facebook.

This way, if you lose your laptop one day, at least you won’t be losing a bunch of sensitive information with it.

If you are unable to go with more than one computer, at least make a solid attempt at hiding your personal details.

You don’t want to label folders or documents with obvious names such as “Passwords” or “Bank Info”.

If your computer falls into somebody’s hands, you don’t want to make it super easy for them to know that you have financial details on it. Label financial folders with uninteresting names such as “Baby Pictures” or “Organic Gardening” instead.

You can’t protect yourself from the professional ID thief who gets your computer. You just don’t want to make it easy for the casual thief.

Three Items to Leave at Home

There are three things you should not carry in your wallet.

1. Your social security card.

Unless you are on your way to a new job, on your way to the bank to open up a new account or maybe going to rent an apartment or some other big event, you don’t need to have your social security card with you. You don’t need it. Leave it at home.

2. Extra credit cards and store cards.

Don’t carry around a bunch of different credit card or retail store charge cards. Just carry the minimum that you really need and use on a regular basis.

If you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, you will need to remember all of the different cards you were carrying and then contact each card issuer to have the card canceled.

You can always grab that individual retail store charge card before you leave the house if you are heading out to a special store to take advantage of a big sale.

3. A debit card with the PIN number written on it.

If you have a debit card in your wallet, don’t have your pin number written right on it.

We understand how embarrassing it can be to be at the front of the checkout line and then not be able to remember our PIN number, but you just have to come up with a less obvious way of remembering it. You could take a picture of it or write it down on something else in your wallet.

Just don’t make it obvious to someone who gets your wallet that those four numbers are your checking account PIN number.

Finally, wherever in your home you decide to leave your social security card and any other cards and papers, make sure you put them someplace where you will remember where they are. Don’t put them in some ingenious hiding place that you won’t remember when you need them.

Safeguard Important Papers

Keep important papers and personal identity items safe from theft.

Some financial documents, passports, extra credit cards and other important papers should be kept in a safe place in your home where they cannot be easily stolen.

While the back of your sock drawer might be handy, the best spot in your home would be a fireproof safe that is secured to the floor.

Don’t have one of those? Well, you’ll have to come up with a different spot. The worst hiding spot will be one that is really easy to guess and close to an outside door.

If you have roommates or other people in your home a lot of the time, you may want to invest in a bank safety deposit box. They aren’t that expensive. Many bank branches do not offer safety deposit boxes, but some of the older ones do.

Your goal is to simply make it harder for the theft of these items to occur. You want to protect these documents from the casual thief.

Most amateur thieves aren’t interested in anything that isn’t cash or can be easily exchanged for cash, but if they see a credit card or passport lying around, they’ll grab that as well.

Wherever you decide to keep your important stuff, there is one more thing you need to do. You need to let one or more family members know where it is.

If it’s a safe, they need to know the combination. And if it’s a safety deposit box, they need to know where the key is.

And don’t forget about protecting your stuff when you’re away from home. You need to be careful at work too.

When you’re at work, try to either lock up your purse or keep it as safe as possible. Don’t leave anything valuable or interesting out in the open that might tempt someone to take something.

Be a Password Pro

One of the keys to protecting your identity is to simply not make it easy for someone to get your information.

One area where people make mistakes is with their internet passwords. Some people use really simple passwords and they use the same ones at different websites.

You need to use a variety of different passwords and don’t share them at multiple websites.

It can be okay to use the same password at different websites if those sites are purely recreational. If they don’t have any financial or personal details on them, you can use the same password in order to make your life easier, but do not share passwords at any important site.

If you use the same password across different websites, someone might learn your password at one site and they may be able to get into your account at a different website. That’s not good.

These people might be an outside hacker who gets into a company’s database and gets access to a whole group of different accounts, or it could be an actual employee of the company who is secretly copying account information to use in an improper way. It happens.

And while you are making unique passwords, be sure to make those passwords strong too.

Don’t make passwords at important sites that are simply made up of consecutive numbers or the name of your kids or family pet. Don’t make it easy to guess what yours is.

Besides being copied or guessed, the third method of acquiring a password is by having it broken by a computer program randomly running through characters in a massive trial and error process.

You can make it difficult for your password to be broken by a computer program in this manner by simply making your password longer.

It’s that simple. It’s math. Professional hackers will tell you that having a longer password is the key to preventing being cracked. Every digit you add to your password makes it much harder to be broken.

And once you get a bunch of logins and passwords, you will need to keep them written down somewhere. Many people will keep this list on their computer. It’s better to have this list on a thumb drive or other external drive that you keep strictly at your home.

You don’t want to keep this list on a drive that you take outside your home in case you were to lose it or leave it at a coffee shop, on the bus or at the airport.

Finally, if you insist on keeping this password list actually on your computer, don’t keep it in a folder obviously labeled “Password List”. Be a little sneaky about it. This is especially true if your computer is portable.

If you lose your laptop, you don’t want to make it easy for someone to spot that password list and log into every one of your accounts.

Go Over Your Financial Statements

When you receive your credit card, bank, or store card account statements each month, be sure to take a moment and go through them.

Take a look at each line item charge and be sure you recognize each one and that the amount is reasonable.

If you see a charge or debit that you don’t recognize, check with your family members who may have either initiated the charge or will recognize what the charge is. It’s not uncommon for some of us to forget something we purchased 30 days ago.

And don’t overlook the small charges either. A common tactic of the professional credit card thief is to make a very small charge on someone’s card to see if the card works and to see if it gets noticed. If the small charge works, then they may come back with a larger charge.

Be especially watchful of charged items with generic names or descriptions too. Fraudsters like to use friendly, generic names such as “Internet Add-on” or “Wireless Premium Option” in the hope that you won’t notice it if you just quickly scan your statement.

If you come to the conclusion that there is a charge or debit that shouldn’t be there, your first step should be to try to contact the company that received your money for a little more information and to make sure that it wasn’t a legitimate charge.

If you determine that an unknown someone has used your account without your permission, you will need to get in touch with your bank or credit card issuer. They will initiate the process of shutting down your current card and getting you a new one. As long as you act quickly, in most cases you will not be liable for any of the charge.

And while it may not be environmentally perfect, we still recommend most people get their important statements physically mailed to their address.

We suggest this for two reasons. First, if you are getting your statement in the mail, you are being assured every month that those businesses still have your correct address and that nobody has gotten into your account and changed your address.

Second, not everyone is disciplined enough to log into their various accounts every month and check them. People are busy. People forget to do things. Getting your statement in the mail is an easy physical reminder to take a minute and look it over.

Check Your Credit Report

Regularly checking your credit report is one of the essential tasks you should be doing to help prevent becoming a victim of identity theft.

There are three main credit reporting agencies and you are allowed to get one free credit report from each of them every 12 months. So if you plan a little bit, you can get one every four months which will allow you to regularly monitor your credit accounts.

These reports will contain details about your addresses, employers, mortgage loans, student loans, credit card debts, other credit accounts, bankruptcies and more.

You want to carefully go through each item listed on your report. You are looking for two things. First, you want to make sure that you recognize each of the company names that is listed on it, and second, that you agree with the numbers associated with that company name.

When you first look at this report, you’ll recognize most of the company names, but you’ll also see some that you don’t immediately recognize. It’s common to see some entries that you won’t recognize at first, but with a little thought, you will remember who they are.

Companies often have various corporate names and often report to the credit agencies using a different name than what you know them as. Loans can also be sold to third parties. So don’t panic if you see one or two you don’t immediately recognize.

Every credit card or store card in your wallet (and maybe your spouse’s wallet too) will have a listing on your report. Try to match them up.

If there are still one or two items you don’t think belong to you, check with your spouse and any other adult family members. They may either know something you don’t or they will remember something you haven’t.

The majority of initially unknown line items can usually be explained or recognized eventually. Give yourself a day or two to think about it or research the company name and you may realize that you do remember this relationship after all.

What you do not want to see on your report are accounts that you know you didn’t open, debts that aren’t yours, employers that you never worked for, or any other record that is obviously incorrect.

Most individuals have credit reports that aren’t perfect, but they are free of major errors and they don’t include any potential identity issues.

Site Update

Okay, so this website is live today.

This is the first post.

We will be updating it quickly and filling the various pages.

We hope you will find the site useful.

Thanks for reading and being here.

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