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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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