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Avoid Identity Theft: 9 Preventative Measures

Avoid Identity Theft: 9 Preventative Measures

identitytheft

    It seems like there’s a report of stolen personal information everyday — and new twists on identity theft to go along with it. Tens of millions of people have fallen victim to some sort of identity theft. They face not only the expense of resolving the situation but also may have problems with their credit history — the thing that affects a person’s ability to get a loan, land a job or even rent a home — for years after.

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    Taking Preventative Measures

    There are quite a few steps you can take to protect your own identity:

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    1. Shred sensitive documents: Shredding any documents with your financial information, Social Security number or other sensitive information is a bare minimum to protect your identity. It’s actually worth running less crucial documents through the shredder, as well — while they may not offer any information to someone digging through your trash, the more papers you shred the harder it is to piece a document back together.
    2. Use a locking mailbox: For an identity thief, getting their hands on your paperwork can be just as easy as opening your mailbox and pulling out a few envelopes. Having a lock on your mailbox can protect you. You may also want to limit how long mail sits in your mailbox, as well — have the post office hold you’re mail if you’re out of town.
    3. Contact the post office if there’s major changes in your mail: If you suddenly stop getting mail, check to make sure that no mail forwarding was set up without your knowledge. You should also contact the post office if you think your mail may have been stolen.
    4. Put your cards, passports and other documents somewhere safe: The fewer pieces of sensitive information you carry around with you every day, the less chance you have of losing something. If you’ve got a credit card you don’t normally use, put that card away at home. It’s worth creating a safe place at home where you can lock up credit cards, your Social Security card, passwords and other personal documents.
    5. Change your PINs and passwords regularly: While I think most people have gotten the full on lecture about not using obvious passwords (like your birthday), it’s rare to find someone who changes their passwords on a regular basis. Changing your password regularly should go double for your bank and credit card accounts, as well as your email — the place where companies often send you your new passwords.
    6. Protect your computer: It may seem that your computer wouldn’t be a main source of personal information, but it offers an identity thief tons to work with, such as the credit card information you use to shop online. Keeping your anti-virus software and spam filters up to date should be a priority no matter how much or how little you use your computer.
    7. Keep in mind how much information is already out there about you: When you’re setting passwords and security questions, remember that information like the name of your high school, your mother’s maiden name and even your first pet are probably out on the internet somewhere — maybe you blogged about them, maybe you filled in a survey. Try
    8. Minimize who actually has your information: Many of the forms that ask for your Social Security number and other personal information don’t actually need it. You’re well within your rights to ask how a particular organization plans to use particular bits of information before handing them over.
    9. Check into security breaches: If you hear that your information could have been included in a security breach, it’s worth checking into. Banks and other companies with access to your information will usually be able to tell you just what information got out and what sort of problems to look for. In some cases, those organizations will provide some help monitoring your credit to help protect you.

    There are more than a few companies that offer identity theft protection services, but the simple fact is that few of these companies can offer anything more than you can do yourself. If it will provide you some peace of mind, using such a service can be worthwhile, but I would recommend at least considering doing without.

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    Keeping An Eye On Your Credit

    Unfortunately, you still run a risk of identity theft no matter how many precautions you take. The fact of the matter is that your information shows up in plenty of places not under your control. With the ever-growing numbers of security lapses, misplaced laptops and the like, there’s still a respectable chance that someone will be able to get their hands on your information.

    Keeping a close eye on how your personal information is being used can prove even more important than preventing identity theft. Checking your credit report on a regular basis, for instance, will help you make sure that you are held responsible for only the credit accounts that you actually opened. You can get free copies of all three of your credit reports once per year through AnnualCreditReport.com.. Don’t limit your observances to your credit report, though: the same goes for ensuring that you just what is being charged in your name. That means carefully going over your statements and each month.

    While it may not be quite as useful to find out about identity theft after the fact, you can still minimize the harm done to your credit if you catch any instances of fraud early.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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