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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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