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identity theftIdentify theft is the fastest growing crime today. It can ruin your credit, wreck your finances, damage your reputation and in extreme cases, land you in jail. Since identity theft is such a lucrative enterprise, criminals are constantly on the prowl looking for easy targets. Unfortunately, it is not possible to prevent it entirely and the only way to remain safe is to be on your guard at all times.

So here are 5 tips to help you prevent your identity from being stolen:

Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

Your Personal Information

Since identify theft involves the fraudulent use of your personal information, such as your credit card number and Social Security number, never give this information to anyone you do not know or cannot trust. When you must give the information, such as when making an online purchase, make sure that the person or website handling it can be trusted and that the information will be used only for the purpose that has been stated.

Your Credit And Debit Cards

Credit and debit cards are the favorite target of scammers and fraudsters. Therefore, you must use them with utmost caution. Do not carry all your cards in your wallet. When you receive a new credit card, sign it immediately. If you lose a credit card, inform the credit card company immediately and have it blocked. Shop with your credit card only at reputable stores and watch the cashiers when they are handling your card. When paying for online purchases or payments, make sure to do it only through an SSL connection.

Your Passwords And PINs

We use passwords and PINS to access our emails, bank accounts, ATMs and social media sites. One of the easiest ways criminals can steal your identity is by getting access to your passwords and PINS. Do not write them down or save them in your smart phone. Memorize them. Change your passwords frequently. When creating a new password, use a combination of alphabets and numbers. Avoid using words and numbers that can be easily guessed, such as your mother’s name or your phone number.

The best trick is to use a sentence you remember. Take “a penny saved, is a penny earned” for example. Your password could take the first letter of each word, making it: “ApSi1pe”.

Your Snail Mails

Banks, credit card companies and utility companies still send a lot of documents by mail – the traditional way. These may include bank statements, insurance forms, credit charge receipts, expired charge cards and pre-approved credit offers. Collect your mail as soon as it arrives in your mail box. Do not leave the documents lying around anywhere in your home. Securely and permanently destroy all the documents that you do not need using a shredder. If you are going away on holiday, call the postal service to request a vacation hold.

Your Knowledge of Identity Theft

It can be hard to imagine someone stealing your identity, but it happens daily. So educate yourself on the different ways that criminals can steal your identity. For example, did you know that a criminal can use your Social Security number to steal your tax refund or apply for a job?

The best ways to catch identity theft early (which makes the damage done less than being oblivious) is to review your credit through your free credit report and to also monitor your credit score. Doing both of these on a regular basis can help you catch any odd activity quickly.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a victim of identity theft is not someone anyone should have to go through. But it does happen, so it’s best that you take the steps needed to limit the chances of it happening to you. Doing so will allow you to sleep at night.

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft?

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6 Secrets Behind Smart LendingDebts and taking out loans, are a tool, not a panacea. Like a lot of powerful tools, debt can be dangerous if mishandled. Here are some tips and tricks for how to borrow, manage and pay off debt in a sane and sensible manner.

Deciding To Go Into Debt

While there are lots of vendors out there peddling purchases on the buy-now, pay-later scheme, you should always ask yourself if it’s worth going into debt to purchase something. In general, if you can purchase the item for less than three months of savings, you shouldn’t buy it on credit – you should save up and pay cash up front. This reserves debt for big-ticket items like cars, computers, furniture and the big one – a home.

Up Front Versus Later Payment

Sometimes, if your credit has taken a hit due to missed bills or getting in trouble with collections agencies, this decision will be made for you…however, the most important debt-related decision is how much to pay up front versus how much to finance with credit. By and large, you’re better off paying more up front and paying less each month, or selecting a shorter term for the loan. Again, the less you need credit to make a purchase, the easier it will be to manage.

Comparison Shop

Debt is usually presented as a convenience item, or, worse yet, as a “limited time offer.” Never, ever, ever sign a contract for debt without getting a comparison from a competing car dealer or lender.

Know How Much It Will Really Cost

In accounting classes, there’s a principle called the Rule of 72. Take 72 and divide by your interest rate; this is the number of years it will take for the amount of interest you pay to equal the amount borrowed. This is one reason why credit card companies prefer customers who use “rolling” credit, and why banks like to set adjustable rate mortgages with very long terms. They’re relying on consumers to not know the doubling period, and to pay more in interests.

Clearing Your Debt

Getting out of debt requires discipline and focus. The first thing you should do is make a monthly budget, and compare your cash outlays to your expenses; if the expenses are larger, it’s time to start cutting back on expenses, or to generate more income.

Next, find the debt with the highest interest rate. Pay that debt at the maximum amount you can afford, and pay the minimums on all the other debts. Once the highest interest rate debt is paid off, take the money you were using on it and apply it to the next-highest interest rate loan. Your goal is to snowball your monthly payments until your debt is manageable or you’re debt free.

Maintaining Your Credit Rating

Always make your minimum monthly payments on your debts. Most car loans and home mortgages have penalty clauses that run up the interest rates in the event of a missed payment. In the worst possible case, you can lose your house or your car. Your credit score is recorded by three major credit reporting businesses, and the longer you keep your debt at a certain percentage of your income, and the longer you make consistent payments, the better your credit rating will be. Credit ratings translate into higher credit limits and lower interest rates on major purchases.

Final Thoughts

Much like we don’t let teenagers drive cars without explaining how dangerous they can be if they’re not used carefully, debt management is the same way. With these sensible guidelines, you can sensibly borrow money and pay it off with minimum disruption to your life.

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